The grass is lush, the soccer and ball fields ready for the punishment of cleats worn by young soccer players and grown men sliding under the tag at second base. Two brand new scoreboards stand ready, as workmen put finishing touches on $500,000 worth of improvements to the Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven.
Athletes of all ages around the Island await the grand reopening of the park on Saturday, Sept. 12. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. There will be speeches by the selectmen and other town and local officials.
After that a softball tournament for men and women will run through the weekend into Sunday. From then on, the Island’s busiest public athletic field, opened in 1953, will again be the daily center for soccer, baseball, volleyball and a place for a walk in the park. Golfers, kite flyers, model plane enthusiasts are all expected.
This past Wednesday, work crews finished raking the two baseball fields. On the north side of the 10-acre property a White Brothers Lynch Corp. crew using heavy equipment put in a new bike path. The narrow asphalt path runs from the back of the fire station to the parking lot. The smell of hot asphalt floated in the late summer air.
Sitting on a renovated baseball bench, DPW superintendent Fred LaPiana spoke about what he called one of the most important public projects in his 16 years of work for the town.
“I see this as a major milestone for the town,” Mr. LaPiana said.
Though planning for the project goes back for several years, the physical work began a year ago. The park was closed to the public and all the topsoil was removed. A new drainage system was installed, to solve the frequent flooding that had begun to plague the field where hundreds of children play youth soccer every weekend in spring and fall. Pipes were laid for a new irrigation system. On top of that, 135,000 square feet of sod were put down. The park remained closed and surrounded by fencing to allow the grass to set. Dog walkers were discouraged. This summer the rainy weather was a gift to the newly planted park, which is now ready for the public again.
The total cost of the project was $590,000; $100,000 came from Community Preservation Act funds. The park project is on budget and private fund-raising is under way to help pay for future maintenance.
Mr. LaPiana said there is still a bit of landscaping left to do behind the fire station.
And he said the biggest supporters of the project were the athletes who use the park.
“The redoing of the field is the biggest single event of my softball career,” declared Dan Sharkovitz, an English teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School who has a passion for softball and has played for over 20 years.
“Hundreds of people look forward to playing baseball every summer,” Mr. Sharkovitz said. Dave Maddox of Vineyard Haven is another softball enthusiast. “I think this was too long in happening. I have been pushing sports for a long time. In the 1970s I coached baseball and football. I ran for town commissioner of the parks and recreation department and was badly beaten in the 1980s. My campaign back then was to work on the fields,” Mr. Maddox said, adding: “It is too bad it didn’t happen years ago.”
Mr. Sharkovitz added: “This is not just about where we have been; it is about where we are going with softball.
“With a beautiful field, this will give others an opportunity to play a good game.”
Next week it will be time to play ball at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven.