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Norvell: If you build it, they will come

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Baseball, softball might be coming back to Ahrens Park in Norvell Township

By John Hummer

Father and son duo of Keith and K.J. Neibauer, directors of Trackside Baseball and Softball based in Grass Lake Charter Township, are bringing those sports back to Norvell Township in 2022.

At their Sept. 8 board meeting, the Norvell Township board unanimously approved an expenditure of $3,000 to go toward the rehabilitation of the front baseball diamond at Ahrens Park on Norvell Road. Some of the money would also go toward pulling out a tree on the first baseline on the back baseball field.

“There is a distinct possibility that some of our COVID money (American Rescue Plan funds) could be spent on parks – that’s one of the clear things we can spend that money on,” said Township Clerk Jeff Oswalt.

The board also unanimously approved Trackside’s use of the Ahrens Park baseball field for the 2022 season. Township Supervisor Bill Sutherland said a field reservation system will be put in place on the township website before the 2022 season begins.

“I think if we rehabilitate it, we’ll see more use, too,” noted Sutherland.

The Trackside teams (called the Trackside Tornadoes) currently practice on and consider their home base the fields at Community Sports & Trails Park located on Willis Road in Grass Lake Charter Township. The park is home to Grass Lake Summer Youth League baseball as well as the American Youth Soccer Organization.

However, sharing the fields with other teams and organizations is becoming a scheduling issue which is what led the Neibauers to explore the rehabilitation of the fields at Ahrens Park in Norvell Township.

Trackside would like to begin work on the field this fall to prepare it for the 2022 baseball season. The baseball field would be used from April through the third week of July for the regular season, the first week of August for tryouts for the following year, and throughout September for more practices and scrimmages for the following season. Trackside carries its own liability insurance for its teams, and players also must sign waivers to protect the organizations involved from liability.

“What we are proposing, in joining forces with you guys, is trying to revive that park and complex as a whole,” K.J. said. He added that he expects demand for field use to continue and would hope to accomplish resurfacing of the back baseball diamond in 2023. “There are not a lot of fields in the area,” he noted. (More below)

Trackside would provide all the labor and manpower to get the fields back to being playable and would maintain the dirt playing surface throughout the spring and summer. “We have all the equipment – sod cutters, levelers, everything we need to get them playable,” K.J. stated. In addition, the organization would provide bases, field drags, field chalk, and other things that go into the maintenance of baseball fields.

For its contributions to field maintenance, Trackside asked for first priority in scheduling field practice time.

“It’s a win-win,” said Township Treasurer Deserre Sauers of the agreement with Trackside Baseball and Softball.

Trackside is a nonprofit youth baseball and softball organization “that focuses on the development of athletes, preparing them for the next level” according to its Facebook page. The organization has been in existence since 2018.

“We have a bunch of former college and current college baseball and softball players that help run our program as well,” K.J. said. “We pride ourselves on not only making sure that we’re developing our athletes on the field but also off the field as well.”

The organization started in 2018 by organizing two baseball teams – one for 10-year-olds and one for 14-year-olds. Since then, they have grown into a five-team organization including four baseball teams (one 10-year-old, one 12-year-old, and two 14-year-old teams) and one softball team (for 12-year-olds) they have just added. “All of our kids consist of pretty much Grass Lake, Napoleon, East Jackson and surrounding areas,” K.J. explained. The teams have tryouts each year and take the top 11 kids to fill the teams from each age group.

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