D'Onofrio: Beattie Ave. fields well worth it

John D'Onofrio

When could anyone have imagined so much exciting, memorable spring baseball being played in this city with all the rain we've been getting?

Before this year? Never.

A head-turning undefeated start for Lockport High School's varsity team through more than a dozen games, and this city hosting the state's Far West Regionals as well as the first Jeffrey Incardona Memorial Tournament, just for starters.

When was this ever possible in Lockport before June 12 with all the rain we've had?

Before this year? Never.

Not a chance. Not even a Toronto Raptors' “not a chance,” but close.

The reason, of course, is that district voters came around to the idea of approving the construction of two, new all-weather baseball fields at the city's east boundary with the Town of Lockport. Once again there were questions — most of them sincere — as to what it was cost and why it was being done, but district representatives led by superintendent Michelle Bradley, athletics director Todd Sudolak and the board of education were all on the same page and stood firm.

They said constructing all-weather facilities for high school athletes saves us all incredible time and money in the end, while attracting outside sporting organizations to come and pay for its use, which creates additional revenue. Annual maintenance costs are reduced to a minimum.

And from the moment they broke ground across the street from Charles Upson Elementary School, local residents simply driving by could see what an outstanding location it was for a ballpark, with plenty of space for future amenities like a snack bar and even more parking, which is obviously needed.

Then they laid that magnificent artificial turf surface down and it was like heaven for the blue and gold players, especially those in the program the longest. Lions skipper Dan Petock took full advantage of a new practice facility and for the first time in his tenure, had guys outside practicing in March. The dark days of batting practices in the shadowing confines of the LHS old gym were over at last.

If this were just a year ago, by June, Lockport varsity, junior varsity and modified teams would have probably played about 10 games apiece, most of them on the road with maybe a handful of contests in the friendly confines of their slippery, muddy home field at Outwater Park — with Jim Conley's favorite, massive, singular gray cloud hovering over the field the entire game.

But this is 2019 and the fields are open for business — even after a huge rainstorm.

The state took notice immediately, having Lockport proudly host this year's state Far West Regionals last weekend, with Medina winning here, advancing to the state Class B  “Final Four” tournament.

Lockport Little League fields out on Lincoln were the proud hosts of the first Jeffrey Incardona Memorial youth baseball tournament last weekend. Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour helped secure the Beattie Avenue complex as host for that tournament's 14-U and 15-U championship games. What a tremendous impact that had on the players and coaches and what an incentive to come back and do it all again next year!

On Sunday, my wife and I noticed more than one family sitting at a downtown restaurant on Sunday afternoon, with at least one person wearing a distinctive youth baseball uniform. You saw them in cars next to you on Lockport streets throughout the day and especially at all the ice cream joints.

We're a baseball city again, thanks to the new Beattie Avenue Complex and feeder programs like LLL and An-Jo Baseball.

When was a spring baseball season like this ever possible in a rain-soaked Lock City before this year?


Follow veteran US&J sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio at @JohnD'Onofrio7.