Local Sports Journal

Have you seen the baseball diamond at Marsh Field recently?

You might think you’re looking at a carefully manicured professional or college baseball field.224920_482654258416008_1430360287_n

It wasn’t that way a few years ago, when Muskegon’s historic baseball facility on Laketon Avenue more closely resembled a stomping ground for the forgotten ghosts of baseball past.

The city of Muskegon previously managed the facility, but constantly tightening budgets, caused by the Great Recession, left few tax dollars available for the maintenance of a baseball field.

But then Len Piasecki, Pete Gawkowski and Jim Grevel took over management of the field in 2010, under the auspices of the nonprofit Lakeshore Baseball Club.

Over the past few years they’ve installed new sod on the playing surface with daily maintenance to keep it in shape. They’ve also installed a new inning-by -inning scoreboard, stadium-type seating and a new backstop net.

Their efforts have helped Marsh Field spring back to life, with more than 200 games played every year by local and traveling baseball teams with players of all ages.

Of course all the care the company has put into the facility requires money. That’s why they held their third annual “Legends of the Game” fundraiser on Saturday, with two games pitting some of the best area players from recent decades against each other.

The highlight game, played in front of several hundred fans, featured a historic rematch of the old Bud Light and Muskegon Barons teams that used to dominate the local men’s league.

Bud Light won this year’s version of the renewed rivalry, 9-0. What made it interesting is that most of the players were 45 or older, and many haven’t played much baseball in recent years.

In Game 2, The Muskegon Legends beat the Grand Rapids Legends 10-3.

The revenue from the fundraiser will help Lakeshore Baseball Club continue its constant effort to improve the field and promote the rebirth of baseball in the area.

“Our whole intent with Marsh Field is to use it as a catalyst to help grow baseball,” Piasecki told the Local Sports Journal Saturday before the fundraising event began.

“We believe with the condition of the field now – with the lights, the concessions stand, the new field, the new scoreboard, the music we play between innings, the public addressing announcing for every game – we put on a pretty decent show.

“We look to give teams a positive experience when they come here to play. We want to encourage each of them to keep playing baseball.

Due to the company’s efforts, Marsh Field now has live baseball for about seven months per year, March through July. It’s updated schedule can be found at “playmarshfield.com.”

In the spring it remains home to the Muskegon High School baseball program, as well as a thriving new middle school program for seventh- and eighth-graders. That age group had been left out of the loop with the demise of many local junior leagues, and many of the kids simply dropped baseball.

Now Lakeshore Baseball Club has 28 teams of youngsters playing in the middle school league. While they are not school-sponsored, many teams have adopted their school names and serve as feeder programs for local varsity teams.

“High school ball was suffering (due to the demise of 7th and 8th grade leagues),” Piasecki said. “They lost a lot of kids to other sports. There was no bridge to high school baseball. We saw a need for it, and it’s the most successful league we’ve started.”

In the summer months Marsh Field hosts the West Michigan Baseball League, which took over where the old local men’s league dropped off. The league currently has six teams comprised of players from the Muskegon and Grand Rapids areas, including many talented college players.

Lakeshore Baseball Club has also been hosting tournaments for traveling junior teams from throughout Michigan and other states.

Marsh Field (and several of the better high school fields) has been the site of five such tournaments this summer, which brought dozens of teams, hundreds of young players and many of their parents and family members to town.

Needless to say, the visitors are good for the local economy. Piasecki said one prominent local restaurant owner has contacted Lakeshore Baseball Club to say thanks for the many out-of-town customers that come in and order food.

“Travel ball is big right now, and it’s an economic draw for Muskegon from mid-June through July,” Piasecki said. “We make teams well aware that they will play on well-manicured, well-maintained fields. Our part is just getting them here. The area sells itself.”