They says the county’s nine softball fields at Harry G. Daniel Park have uneven playing surfaces and poor lighting and irrigation. The deteriorating conditions, they argue, are safety risks.
“I rolled my ankle just a few weeks ago in the outfield just trying to plant my foot,” says one player.
Several Chesterfield residents, wearing their softball uniforms, asked county leaders at a packed board meeting Wednesday to invest more time and money in the fields by forming a better working relationship with the private company that now oversees the day-to-day operations of the softball complex.
In the wake of the housing crisis and recession in 2010, Chesterfield Parks and Recreation privatized the county’s nine softball fields, by signing a three-year contract with Softball Nation, a company run by David “Butch” Tiller.
Chesterfield leaders say the move has saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to a lease agreement, Softball Nation pays the county $65,000 dollars per year to lease the fields, which goes directly into the county’s general fund.
While Softball Nation is responsible for labor, equipment and routine maintenance and upkeep of the fields, the county is responsible for major structural repairs, including repairs to the athletic field lights, fences and concession buildings and restrooms.
Former Chesterfield County Sheriff Clarence Williams spoke passionately before lawmakers, saying the fields resembled cow pastures. He said safety concerns have caused people, including several in the elderly community, to reconsider playing softball.
“It kept me in shape, it kept me healthy,” argued Williams. “Look at these people, they’re healthy people because they get out and play softball!”
Under privatization, several softball leagues also complain that their fees have gone up from $545 to $795, causing many to drop out.
While several people defended Tiller and his dedication to the fields, they say the current lease agreement has led to many lapses.
Tiller spoke before lawmakers arguing, “It’s basically a lease, I take care of the little things and the county takes care of the big things, well the big things aren’t being taken care of,” Tiller says.
Late Wednesday evening, county leaders decided to postpone renewing the lease agreement pending further review and public comment.
The county’s lease with Softball Nation expires on December 31. The new lease agreement will be a five-year contract with five, one-year extensions.
Chesterfield residents say both Hanover and Henrico Counties have invested in their softball complexes. They say as the state’s third largest county, Chesterfield County should do the same.