Long awaited start to full-size ball diamond at East Washington Street Park

The groundbreaking ceremony for the full-sized diamond was another step for a determined group of community baseball advocates who have been pursuing a modern facility for almost 15 years.|

While an earthmover sat in the background, a few small scoops of soil symbolized the difference between a dream and reality as a small group gathered last week to mark the beginning of the Petaluma Community Baseball Field at the East Washington Street Park.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the full-sized baseball diamond was another step for a determined group of community baseball advocates who have been pursuing a modern baseball facility for almost 15 years.

When completed, the new facility will be much more than a baseball diamond. It will the centerpiece for the East Washington Street sports complex that already includes lighted lacrosse and soccer fields.

“This is going to be a huge benefit to the entire community,” said Rod Moore, general manager of the Petaluma Leghorns American Legion baseball team. “It clearly helps the Leghorns, but there are so many others who will be able to use the facility. It will be a great benefit to the high schools and club baseball teams, and it will be a place where parents, grandmas and grandpas can come watch their kids play.”

The path to last week’s groundbreaking hasn’t been easy.

“No one could have predicted some of the obstacles we would face,” said Drew Halter, Petaluma’s parks and recreation director.

The momentum for the project was just building up steam when COVID changed everything in the sports world, taking the focus away from athletics. Then came a shortage of building materials, lack of labor, inflation and other unforeseen problems.

Many groups, including city leaders and staff, youth recreation advocates, the Leghorns and architect and engineering professionals, have contributed to carry the project to this point.

“It was really a collaboration of the City Council, city staff and many others. A lot of people contributed,” said Gretchen McCann of G&M Landscape Architects. O.C. Jones is general contractor for the project.

“It is rewarding in the sense it took a lot of work from a lot of engaged stockholders,” said Halter. “The project embodied a real team mentality.”

Petaluma Council member Kevin McDonell noted that the baseball diamond has always been part of the park plan. “It is critical,” he said.

He noted that the city had recently made big strides in providing more open space with the development of the Petaluma River Park and opening Lafferty Ranch Park. “But we need this kind of park as well,” he said. “One that will keep kids and their families engaged.”

Moore said current council members and city staff have been very supportive, but a lot of credit goes to former Petaluma assistant city manager Scott Brodhun.

“We were blessed with having Scott,” said Moore. “The baseball stadium was his vision.”

The new diamond will have a fully synthetic playing field, backstop, fencing, dugout and bleachers similar to those at both Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools. Outfield dimensions will be 355 feet to left field and 385 feet to left-center. Right field will, of necessity, be 330 feet, but protected by a higher fence.

Landscaping will be irrigated with reclaimed water.

Cost for the city-financed project, including the turf, backstop, dugouts, fencing and stands, is about $5.3 million, Halter said.

It is not enough to complete the facility envisioned by project supporters.

“It is a great start, but we’re not done yet,” Moore said. He noted that still needed for a complete stadium-type facility are real grandstands, a press-box for scorekeepers, bathrooms and, perhaps most importantly, lights for night games. “We need people to understand we still need help and financial support to finish the field,” he said.

Halter estimated it will take another $1.2 million to fully complete the project.

The parks and recreation manager said it is too early to predict when the field will be ready for play, but did note that, if things go well, it could be ready sometime next year.

The most immediate beneficiary of the new fields will be the current Leghorn American Legion team, and head coach Spencer Finkbohner can’t wait. “I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It was definitely a long-time coming.

“Rod, our board and the city have got the ballpark started. We owe a lot of people for getting us this far. Now it is up to me, my coaches and our players to help get the amenities we need. We are going to give it our A-plus effort.”

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