SCHENECTADY — The Michigan Avenue field has seen better days.
The graffiti-marred concrete clubhouse looms behind a rusty chain link fence and messy tangles of vine, an afterthought as traffic whizzes on and off I-890.
But where some see despair at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Rutgers Street, one local baseball league sees the opportunity to not only resurrect the mothballed facility, but reignite pride in the city’s baseball culture.
“This has been a personal dream of mine,” said Schenectady Babe Ruth League President Will Bernacet, who wants to use the city-owned site as a home base. “The most important thing for us is to have a field we can call home for these kids.”
Bernacet pitched the plan to City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee on Tuesday, which tentatively approved entering into a lease agreement for use and maintenance of the field, with an option for taking over the clubhouse later.
The field has been sitting empty for at least a decade, officials said.
The first phase aims to repair the scoreboard and fencing, remove brush and refurbish the playing field and bleachers.
A second proposed step aims to stabilize the clubhouse, and the final step is to repair electrical and plumbing issues with the goal of eventually reopening the two-story structure.
Schenectady Babe Ruth League has nearly $4,000 committed, Bernacet said.
“Our goal is to raise $25,000 for the restoration."
Lawmakers said they'll consider granting use to the clubhouse if the first phase can be completed successfully.
Ninety kids participated in Schenectady Babe Ruth’s baseball and softball youth clinics last year, interest Bernacet likened to an “explosion.”
But his youth teams don’t have home turf, playing every game on the road and sharing the city-owned Golf Road fields with their older teams, he said.
For Bernacet, the project is more than just dusting off a neglected field, but rather an attempt to preserve the city’s baseball legacy, which included Schenectady Little League clinching the 1954 Little League World Series.
“Inaction is only going to mean we will lose kids,” he said.
The effort has gained early support from Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady and the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association.
Pat Smith, the association’s president, said a sense of community pride has disintegrated into “neglect and a sense of despair."
“Only good can come of this project,” Smith wrote in a letter of support, “as the ruins are now ruins with no other commitment for improvement on the horizon.”
Bernacet said the league isn’t asking for financial support from the city.
City Engineer Chris Wallin, however, acknowledged the project may require more than volunteer help and a fundraising campaign to be successful.
“I think the city is going to have to put a little money on the table,” Wallin said.
A more accurate picture of the specific work and costs will likely emerge after weeds and brush are cleared, he said.
An engineering report commissioned by the city last fall revealed projected cost for a full rehabilitation of the clubhouse would cost between $95,000 and $190,000, plus a 10-percent contingency.
Lawmakers did not commit to additional funding on Tuesday and expressed concerns over costs and how the handover would affect other ball leagues in the city.
Schenectady Babe Ruth sparred last spring with the Schenectady Rebels, a private traveling league, over use of city-owned fields.
Councilman Ed Kosiur suggested Bernacet reach out to the team to discuss the effort, citing concerns over one team being put at an unfair disadvantage.
“I just don’t want to have to cut out another league,” Kosiur said.
The city, Kosiur acknowledged, has a checkered track record when it comes to allowing local athletic leagues to use city-owned fields in exchange for upkeep.
Some long-standing agreements have eroded over time, which led to the Fourth Street field at Hillhurst Park falling back into disuse just a few years after a grassroots effort to reopen the facility.
Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas supports the effort.
“We need to move this along,” she said. “Quite frankly, the kids are going to begin signing up.”
The full City Council is expected to vote on the resolution next Monday.
If approved, it would mark the second time in recent months the city has decided to hand over responsibility of unused city property to an outside group pledging revitalization efforts.
City Council deeded the shuttered Carver Center to a non-profit group last fall with a two-year reverter clause that would return the building to city ownership if the new owners fail to complete their rehabilitation of the structure.