Batter up! I step up to the plate, dig my cleats into the dirt in the batter’s box and gently tap the plate with my bat. It’s the ninth inning. Bases loaded, two outs and the winning runner is on first. I’m sure my mom and dad are yelling encouragement from the bleachers, but I don’t hear them. I take a couple warm-up swings and set my sights on the pitcher. I’ve faced him before; he’s got a wicked fastball. He’s only an inch taller than me, but standing out there on the mound he looks like he’s 10 feet tall.
No matter my odds, this is what every baseball player dreams of.
The pitcher likes to lead with a low-outside fastball, not my pitch. He winds up and fires a scorcher over the plate and into the catcher’s glove. Thwack! Strike one.
“It’s all good,” I whisper to myself, even though this guy’s got a rocket launcher for an arm. The second pitch is high and inside. I swing and miss. Strike two. I take a deep breath, adjust my helmet and raise my bat. “You got this,” I tell myself.
I scan the field and survey my teammates at first, second and third. They’re counting on me. My coaches are counting on me. Our fans are counting on me. I know my parents will console me if I strike out, but I don’t want their consolation. I want to hit this ball over the Catalinas. I set my feet and raise the bat. The pitcher nods at the catcher and pauses for what feels like an eternity before he winds up. And there it is—a change-up down the middle. I swing. Crack!
At James D. Kriegh Park, baseball is a tradition. These fields have been home to the Cañada del Oro Little League for more than four decades. Thousands of kids learned how to pitch, hit and run there. Many of those kids went on to play high school and college ball. A few even made it to the big leagues, including Shelley Duncan, who now works for the Toronto Blue Jays, and two-time Golden Glover, Ian Kinsler, who was instrumental in the Boston Red Sox 2018 World Series victory and now plays for the San Diego Padres.
However, the park has felt the effects of all this activity. Over the years the grass had worn down and gophers began calling JDK Park home. This resulted in less-than-ideal playing surfaces. To make improvements to JDK, the Parks Management team began work on two-phase project. Phase one, which cost $340,000 and was part of the Town of Oro Valley’s Capital Improvement Program, is now complete and included improved playing surfaces and the removal of old, patchwork grass and installation of a Bermuda/rye grass mix. The cool weather rye grass allowed for the baseball fields to be green in the winter and the Bermuda grass will transition to green in the summer. Phase one also included improvements to the irrigation systems, which will reduce water usage and also aligns with the town’s focus on water conservation. New fencing and overall transition space improvements completed phase one.
Phase two of the project will include replacing the old restroom with a water-efficient, ADA-compliant restroom, new ramadas and lighting for the existing playground. These improvements are planned to be completed this fall. Phase two will cost $200,000 and was approved in the Town’s 2019/20 capital plan.
James D. Kriegh Park has been a community gathering place for more than four decades, providing hundreds-of-thousands of people with life-long memories. Kids learned how to win with grace and lose with their heads held high. Adults made new friends who they now spend holidays with. The Town of Oro Valley is working hard to ensure the legacy of these fields and this park lives on for many more generations.
This year, the Town of Oro Valley will host its annual Fourth of July Celebration at JDK. Thousands will show up with their blankets, chairs and picnic baskets. Children will giggle as they play in the jumping castles and have their faces painted. Adults will find comfortable spaces and settle in and relax. Live music will reverberate across the park until the sun sets and the Catalina Mountains fade from pink to purple to black. And at 9 p.m. when the lights go off, the sky will be lit with a stunning firework display. Kids will snuggle into their parents’ laps, and teenagers will hold hands for the first time.
James D. Kriegh Park is an Oro Valley treasure. It is rich in tradition and forever connected to our hearts.
Kristy Diaz-Trahan is the Town of Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Director