When I first visited the Bellevue Little League field, I was struck by how quiet it was.
Plants threatened to swallow the bleachers and clubhouse. Stagnant water flooded the dugout, and dead branches were strewn throughout the property. I didn't see any deer, but Ed Varno, the retired Schenectady firefighter who lives next door to the field, told me that they're a common sight.
On that summer morning, the property felt more like a nature preserve than a park.
But when I returned to the field on Sunday, it was undergoing a transformation.
A large crew of volunteers were raking, weedwhacking and filling dumpsters with brush. The chain-link fence, bleachers and buildings were clear of vegetation, if not graffiti or mold. I watched a group of men carry a rusty set of metal bleachers off the field.
The deteriorating Fourth Street field, located in Schenectady's Hillhurst Park, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Back in May, Varno attended a Schenectady City Council meeting and urged officials to address conditions at the field, which abuts his home on Campbell Avenue. His call for action sparked a larger discussion of what ought to be done with city-owned parks once maintained by Little League teams that no longer exist.
It's another story that highlights Schenectady's ongoing challenges with blight and abandonment, but there's a chance it will have a happier ending than most.
Schenectady residents Sequon Young and Robert Dobbs want to use the field as a base of operations for recreational activities for city youth.
I met with both men on Varno's front porch shortly after Labor Day, where they told me about their dream for a youth program that will stage games such as kickball, flag football, field hockey, softball and lacrosse on the field, as well as events such as back-to-school giveaways and water balloon fights.
The goal: helping kids, particularly those at risk of getting into trouble.
"Our kids need us," said Dobbs, who grew up in the neighborhood and played Little League baseball on the Fourth Street field when he was younger.
It's a compelling vision, one that Dobbs, 28, and Young, 36, share with great enthusiasm. But it was seeing the cleanup they organized this weekend that really sold me on their idea.
The people who showed up to help were excited about bringing the field back to life, and willing to put in the work to make it happen.
Like Dobbs and Young, they saw a need for more youth programming in Schenectady -- for positive community programs that keep kids out of trouble and get them outside.
"This is all about this new generation on kids," Schenectady resident Josh Baker, a volunteer, told me. "I love everything we're doing today."
The cleanup started around 8 a.m. and by early afternoon, when I swung by, it was looking about 100 times better. Varno, who is helping Dobbs and Young revitalize the field, told me he was "ecstatic."
"This is a beautiful thing, to see that the community can come together to do this," said Young, who owns his own business, Sayless Printing and Apparel. Dobbs designs and sells his own line of clothing, Forever Broke.
He's right -- and it's why Young and Dobb's vision deserves support.
The two men plan to spend the winter organizing their youth program, with an eye toward launching it next year. That gives them time to plan -- and to get the word out to residents that something special is in the works.
Dobbs, Young and Varno have already accomplished a lot.
If they can bring their vision to fruition, the Bellevue Little League field might start feeling less like a quiet nature preserve, and more like a lively little park.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]