There may have been an iffier start for a Little League season, but no one around Malibu can remember it.
With renovation of the ball fields at Bluffs Park running way behind schedule and rerouting of the annual Opening Day Parade (ultimately called because of rain Saturday), league officials are exploring all options to let the games begin.
Parade and festivities aside, the most compelling problem is the condition of the two main baseball diamonds. Coaches say they are concerned for the safety of their players even more than the shortening of the game schedule.
After inspecting the fields last week, city and Little League officials decided the fields were unplayable and opening games would have to be postponed.
Malibu Little League Commissioner Rick Holben said volunteers were ready to step in and do what is necessary to make the surface safe, but the city has refused, expressing concern about signing off on the contract and legal issues with the contractor.
“We have a punch list of the things we could do in a couple of days that at least would make the fields safe for the kids,” Holben said Tuesday.
“We have a legal contract, so until the city signs off on the contract, no one else can have access to the field,” said Catherine Walter, the city’s Parks and Recreation director. “I think by this weekend, unless we have more rain, the job should be done. If there needs to be some adjustments, we’ll require the contractor to do it.”
First on Little League’s punch list is filling in the seams of the sod, which is now rooted to about two inches, deep enough so that it wouldn’t be damaged by playing on it. “A kid’s cleats can get stuck in the gaps and cause them to break an ankle,” Holben said.
Coaches and parents have also expressed concern about the toxicity of silica sand, used by the contractor to top the sod. “It’s toxic if the dust is inhaled or comes in contact with mucous membranes. We need to take off what we can and cover the rest with decomposed granite,” Holben said.
Walter maintains that silica was called for in design specs by Purkiss.Rose RSI, the landscape architect and park and recreation planning firm that was awarded the design contract.
“Baseball specs call for that,” Walter said. “The contractor, Y.KO Construction, is just following those specs. If it was put in there in error, we’ll have to take it up. But the grass should grow in and cover it. Every day there’s less showing.”
Landscaper Paul Major, a Little League board member who headed the fields committee for three years, said the group spends between $6,000 and $12,000 every year to keep the fields in playable condition. The money is raised through fund-raisers and revenue from the snack shack.
Major said the sod used was Bermuda grass, which is dormant in winter. “We used a fescue blend that grows in cool weather,” he said. “It would usually take 30 to 45 days for sod to fill in, but Bermuda doesn’t grow until it gets warm.”
Major said people noticed problems as early as January and asked him to look at the field. “I told them someone needed to oversee the project and make sure the specs were followed,” he said. “We haven’t been privy to all aspects of the contract, including additional cost items such as the sand to fill in the gaps. I believe the taxpayers are getting ripped off on the whole project.”
Parents and coaches are also concerned that if games are delayed much longer, there will be no Little League season this year. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Dermot Stoker, who also coaches Little League, told the City Council Monday, “For some of the kids, the 12-year-olds, this will be their last opportunity to play Little League. We need to get the fields open right away or we’re looking at not having a season at all. Malibu may lose its Little League status if they have not played their full amount of games.”
There were 20 games scheduled and play would have started Feb. 22 if the fields had been ready.
City Manager Harry Peacock was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Walter, City Attorney Christi Hogin, Holben, and one or two other Little League officials.
The council Parks and Recreation Sub-committee will meet at 1 p.m. Friday at City Hall.