With no baseball is Labatt Park's 'continuous use' label in jeopardy?
LONDON, ONT. -- The City of London is using this pandemic to complete some upgrades to the 'World’s Oldest Baseball Grounds.'
Concrete will be poured Wednesday morning on a new extension to both dugouts, which will give it a professional feel.
"It's all about safety," says JP McGonigle, City of London Parks and Recreation division manager. "You'll see it in MLB games where they like to stand up against the fence outside the dugout so this gives them a chance to do that."
McGonigle says the dugouts and brand new batting cage were two components that stakeholders talked about over the last five years. Now the projects, which began in 2019, can be finalized.
There has yet to be any games played at the Forks of the Thames River in 2020, and the city has been fielding calls reminding them about their current 'continuous use' streak.
"This park has been in continuous since 1877," says Scott Stafford, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of London.
"However first and foremost we have to think of the health and safety of our customers, staff and players...We want to make sure we are following provincial regulations, and we are hopeful we'll have a game here by end of the year."
A new extension and railings are being built for Labatt Park dugouts in London, Ont., Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Brent Lale / CTV News)
Barry Wells, who founded the Friends of Labatt Park, believes even if there are no games, the 'continuous use' designation won't be affected.
"If you look at the Guinness Book of World Record certificate, it says established in 1877, and hosted baseball games to the present day," says Wells.
"I don't see it as an issue. The ballpark is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and it is in a floodplain so there is no development allowed. It's going to be here until the end of time."
There is still hope that the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) will see action at Labatt Park this summer. IBL Commissioner John Kastner says they hope to make a final decision about the season Wednesday night.
"We were reluctant to pull plug on this, and have province say you can start playing next weekend, and you can have 30 per cent capacity," says Kastner.
He says he believes that people could distance safely in the big ballparks and provide some safe entertainment for fans in the five cities in which teams have said they have interest in playing.
However, until the province moves to phase three of COVID-19 reopening, that can't happen.
"We really need fans to support the operation of teams, and we need sponsors," says Kastner. "Those are big hurdles for us, along with emergency orders an inability to bring fans together. We set a window of mid-July, if we don't go by then we might not be able to go."
Kastner says the hope would be a 20-game schedule with a short playoff in September to keep the 100-year-old league running.
If there is no action, Stafford says they may try to arrange something in the fall with either the London Majors or London Badgers to keep the 'continuous use' label going.
"If we get within provincial regulations, they've talked to us about doing that," says Stafford.
"If we get to that place and it's late in the year, we'd even be interested in a fall classic in late October if it came to that."