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Encinitas Little League to play 2015 season at YMCA fields

With opening day approaching, Encinitas Little League will play at the Magdalena Ecke YMCA Sports Park through at least 2015. Beyond that is still uncertain.

YMCA expansion plans could take one or more of the sports park fields in future years. But for now, YMCA and city officials have stated that all the fields will stay open to Encinitas Little League and other sports leagues in 2015.

“The YMCA in conjunction with the city of Encinitas has announced that the Ecke Sports Park will remain open throughout 2015,” wrote Lisa Rudloff, Encinitas Parks and Recreation director, in an email.

The YMCA owns the fields, with the city leasing and maintaining them.

The possibility of Encinitas Little League and other sports leagues having to move took center stage last fall, when a contract change came to light.

In December 2013, without public or council member discussion, the Encinitas City Council approved a 10-year extension of the lease — but with a new clause that the public became aware of almost a year later.

The clause says the YMCA (or city) can cancel the lease with 30 days’ notice, which could come into play if the YMCA needs the fields for its planned expansion.

In response, Encinitas Little League and other leagues expressed concern they could be displaced without much notice.

The city held the option to extend the lease for 10 years without any clauses, though it didn’t exercise this right.

Rudloff said the 30-day clause provides flexibility if either party wants to end the lease. As an example, Rudloff said: “If the city, through the parks master planning process, identified space to develop, the city would have flexibility to get out of the lease.”

Susan Hight, executive director of the YMCA, said in an email that the organization is developing a site master plan to serve members better, including expanding its footprint and renovating existing buildings. The plan could affect one or more of the fields.

“The YMCA anticipates finalizing their master plan site prior to July 2015, in advance of next year’s scheduling session (for leagues),” Hight said. She also said the YMCA would provide open communications with families who are part of the sports leagues.

For years, Encinitas Little League has played on the land, which the Ecke family donated to the YMCA.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar, city staff, Encinitas Little League and the YMCA have met several times in the past three months to discuss field space at the YMCA and potential solutions.

Encinitas Little League President Robert Wade said the YMCA and city expressed a verbal commitment that the league could remain there through 2015. He added that league officials have expressed the desire to stay at the sports park beyond this year. Talks are ongoing.

“We met to collectively find a solution that obviously doesn’t leave Encinitas Little League homeless or in some sort of predicament where we don’t have fields for the current season or following one,” Wade said.

He added that discussions have also focused on the YMCA’s needs, such as additional parking and the master plan.

Encinitas Little League officials have said moving to the new 44-acre Encinitas Community Park is a possibility. However, the park doesn’t have nighttime lighting, so the league would probably have to reduce the number of games and players.

This year, the league will have 543 players, the highest number in a decade.

Ever since the contract change became public last November, Wade said quite a few in the community have voiced support for baseball staying at the Ecke fields.

Encinitas Little League’s opening day ceremony is set to start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at the sports park, though there’s a chance it could be rained out and delayed a week. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, parents will be emailed and a notice will be posted early Feb. 28 — at the latest — on the league’s website at www.eteamz.com/encinitasbaseball.

Wade said the festivities will include players running onto the field, a home run derby and player pictures. And league officials will give out the annual Tom Dempsey award, recognizing courage and character, to local resident Deion Randle, 15, who beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Last year, a league team made up of 12- and 13-year-olds was the talk of the town, finishing one step short of the Little League World Series. Wade said the league’s three other all-star teams also did very well.

“I hope the teams can go far again,” he said. “They’re certainly putting in the time and effort.”

To what does he attribute the success?

“Our facilities are great,” Wade said. “We have a great new batting cage. And our coaches, teams and players spend countless hours working together. That’s been a big part.”

He added: “The kids see where the bar is set, and it keeps getting higher and higher. They continue to work hard and practice hard.”


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