Old Backstop Saved For Now In Ocean City; Committee Decides To Wait For Master Plan Process

OCEAN CITY — The old baseball and softball backstop at the corner of 3rd Street and Philadelphia Avenue got another stay of execution this week after the Recreation and Parks Committee agreed to leave it in place until a larger plan for the park is developed.

Last fall, it came to light the old baseball and softball fields at the park at 3rd Street had outlived their useful life for that purpose and the old dugouts were increasingly being used for illicit activities inconsistent with the spirit of the city’s public parks. As a result, the old dugouts were torn down and replaced with temporary fencing until a larger plan for the park complex between 3rd and 4th streets was developed.

However, once the dugouts were torn down, it came to light the old backstop on the corner of 3rd Street and Baltimore Avenue creates a visual impairment for motorists heading east on 3rd Street and attempting to cross or turn right onto southbound Philadelphia Avenue. A portion of the backstop protrudes into the line of sight triangle prescribed for intersections and is technically a slight code violation.

In December, the Mayor and Council debated what to do with the chain-link backstop and its visual impact on the busy intersection. Some suggested it was a code violation, and because the town had now been made aware of it, it needed to come down. Others argued the backstop completed the fencing around the park, which is often used by pet owners and families with young children.

Others argued while the backstop is no longer used by officially sanctioned Recreation and Parks Department baseball and softball leagues, many in the community were still using it for a variety of purposes. Mayor Rick Meehan even evoked nostalgic reasons to save the backstop, pulling up a decades-old picture on his phone of his old beer league softball team from 1971.

One proposal called for simply moving the backstop in a few feet from the intersection in order to eliminate the traffic obstruction while saving the amenity. However, after closer inspection, it was determined the backstop could not be moved and would have to be torn down or replaced at a significant cost. Ultimately, the Mayor and Council sent the issue back to the Recreation and Parks Committee, which took up the debate on Tuesday.

Recreation and Parks Department Director Susan Petito said on Tuesday it might be a good idea to let the master plan process play out before deciding to remove the backstop.

“This has been back and forth,” she said. “I don’t like to lose any recreational amenity. Are we scheduling any events or programs that utilize the backstop? No, but there are people using it for various purposes. It can be removed or it can stay there until we decide what we’re doing with our strategic plan for those parks.”

Councilman and committee member John Gehrig said there was no good reason to spend money to remove the backstop or replace it until the master plan process had been completed.

“I don’t think we need to spend a nickel on this,” he said. “It’s a see-through chain-link fence and there are other intersections with obstructions that we need to be concerned with. With the master plan coming up soon, there could be other changes for that park.”

Council President Lloyd Martin, a committee member as well, said the obstruction to the intersection was minimal and agreed with Gehrig’s suggestion to keep the backstop in place for now.

“I agree,” he said. “I’ve never had any trouble seeing through that fence and I drive through that intersection all the time. People on the sidewalk are more of a distraction. I think we leave it in place until we get a master plan.”

Councilman and Recreation and Parks Committee Chair Wayne Hartman had advocated removing the backstop, especially since it came to the city’s attention it was creating a code violation. Hartman, who had taken some lumps and been on the losing end of some key votes earlier in the day during the Mayor and Council meeting, acquiesced and also voted to keep the backstop in place until the larger master plan for the entire complex was determined.

“Some days you’re the bat and some days you’re the ball,” he said. “I’m obviously the ball today.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.