WESTFIELD – Longtime Babe Ruth Baseball president Dan Welch may have used Barnes Municipal Airport to officially launch a special effort Wednesday night, but he and several others were seeking of landing something of a different sort.
City, state, and public officials met late Wednesday to discuss the possibilities for Westfield to host a Babe Ruth World Series as early as 2016.
Robert Faherty, Jr., commissioner and vice president for Babe Ruth, Inc., attended the meeting, which also included Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, city councilors, Rep. state Sen. Donald R. Humason, Dem. State Rep. John Velis, Westfield/Westfield Vocational-Technical high schools athletic director Karen Gomez, Westfield State University athletic director Richard Lenfest, and others.
“It was a great first meeting,” said at-large city councilor Brian Sullivan. “The community support was fantastic. It’s going to have to be that way if we want to pull (this) off. I’d like to see this happen for Dan Welch. He has put a lot of time and effort into trying to accomplish this.”
During the last three years of Welch’s tenure, Westfield has sent two teams to the Babe Ruth World Series – the 14-Year-Old All-Star squad (Ocala, Fla.) in 2014 and the 13-Year-Old All Stars (Kitsap County, Wash.) in 2012. Both teams qualified with thrilling regional championship victories in front of packed houses at Bullens Field, rivaling the atmosphere of any high school tournament game played locally.
Welch attended both of those World Series. It was after the second trip that he said he came to the conclusion that the Whip City could host a tournament of that caliber with striking success.
“After that second Babe Ruth World Series trip, everything fell into place in my mind,” Welch said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. We have the volunteer effort and community support.”
Bullens Field is already home to several local Western Massachusetts champion high school baseball teams, state and regional Babe Ruth tournaments. A Vintage Base Ball World Championship was held at the ballpark in 2008.
Fans have packed the old-time ballpark routinely for big events.
Welch formed an executing planning committee made up of himself, two individual player’s parents, Lisa Masciadrelli and David Huntley, who attended the 2014 and ’12 World Series, respectively, and Community Development Block Grant co-ordinator Diana McLean.
Together, the board investigated opportunities for hosting a World Series, and met with various members of the community, including politicians, the school committee, and members of the business community.
Welch filed the application for approval, and hosted a site visit for Faherty, Jr.
The plan appears to have unanimous support from all factions of the Westfield community, and major corporate sponsors have already committed more than $70,000 to host a World Series. Some $125,000 or so is required to hold the event.
Whether or not the World Series is approved, there are definitive plans to upgrade Bullens Field, according to Mayor Knapik.
“It needs to be done,” said Knapik, a former Babe Ruth player himself. “Westfield deserves it … I thought we hit a home run (with the presentation to Babe Ruth, Inc.).”
A statistical analysis of the park completed in 2013 revealed that “the bleacher complex is in dire repair,” Mayor Knapik said.
Plans are in the works to install bleacher-style seating along the large concrete steps located behind home plate, replace the current lights atop the light poles at the stadium with state-of-the-art LED lighting, bring the fencing in along the third base line, expand the press box area, and make the entire park Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.
After speculations for repair are completed, Knapik said the project will be placed out to bid more-than-likely next summer.
A decision on the World Series bid is expected by the end of the year, according to Babe Ruth officials.