Bellaire to christen new diamond

T-L Photo/KIM NORTH PICTURED IS the new baseball field in Neffs that will be the home of the Bellaire Big Reds’ baseball team, starting this week. The field has been re-built from the ground up and will be dedicated on April 22 at 2 p.m.

NEFFS — The words ‘Play Ball’ will ring out once again along Ohio 149.

Bellaire High School will officially dedicate John Blacker Field on Sunday, April 22 when the Big Reds host Steubenville Catholic in high school baseball action. The first pitch is slated for 2 p.m. following a brief ceremony. Blacker, now deceased, was a former chief at the Neffs Fire Department for more than 25 years. He also coached little league baseball on the field.

“The regular season is winding down, but yes, we will play baseball there this spring,” Superintendent of Schools Darren Jenkins said of the new complex. He is also serving as interim athletic director.

“We’ve been working on it for about a year now,” he added of the project. “A year ago the field was overgrown with grass and weeds. Today we have a field that has been sodded and dugouts that are up. Had the weather been even a normal winter or a normal spring, we would have been playing baseball there already.”

The need for its own diamond arose several years ago when the Ohio Valley suffered through a wet April much like the one we have been experienced thus far. Bellaire has played its home games on Chase Field at the Bellaire Jr. Sports Complex.

“There was an agreement between the Village Park Board and the Bellaire Jr. Sports for us to use that field. We had a great relationship with them, but two or three years ago it was a spring much like this one and we didn’t get to play one home game,” Jenkins stressed. “That wasn’t an acceptable situation for our student-athletes. So that, honestly, was the genesis of us trying to establish a home field for Bellaire students so they can have a place to call home.”

According to Jenkins, the actual playing surface was completed last week by AG Design.

“They did the I-470 fields and some work at Ohio State University this year, as well as Huntington Park, the Class AAA Columbus Clippers Stadium,” Jenkins continued. They are a very reputable athletic field prep company. That’s what they specialize in. We are very happy with the way the playing surface has turned out.”

The general contractor on the facilities was Colaianni Construction of Dillonvale.

Completion of the press box/concession stand structure, as well as some concrete work and final grading needs to be finished.

“Later this summer we will be installing bullpen areas down the foul lines, but not for this spring.”

He estimated the total cost of the project to be somewhere between $500,000-600,000 in the field and buildings.

“Two years ago the district entered into a Qualified Zone Academy Bonds Program. In essence, we wrote a grant for some academic enhancements in the district (computers, hardware/software, etc…) and we used that money to establish STEM programs within the high school and the middle school for increased academics in science, technology, engineering and math application programs. But, along with that application for money were projects for the physical plants,” Jenkins explained.

“Last year we put all new LED lighting in every building in the district in an attempt to save on electric costs. That was the money we used to construct the new physical education building at Nelson Field. The baseball field is an extension of that project. Those dollars are not part of our general fund dollars. We did not spend general fund dollars out there, nor did we at Nelson Field.

We have a lease agreement with the Neffs Fire Department for the use of that field for the next 50 years at $1 per year. but as part of that agreement, they have the naming rights to the field.