While the Roland Park Baseball Leagues appears to be losing its only permanent diamond at Medfield Elementary School, the search for another home field that will serve its long-term purposes is nearly complete.
A 2-acre site in Mt. Washington has already been selected, and the RPBL's "Field of Dreams" capital campaign is rolling along as it seeks funding for all of the necessary work needed to make the Rogers Avenue land ready for diamond fun.
To date, RPBL officials have raised $143,000 of the $180,000 campaign goal to complete the process.
According to Dave Riegel, the RPBL's field liaison and a project manager for Southway Builders Inc. in Federal Hill, RPBL would lease the Northwest Park land — rather than buy it — from its current owner, the University of Maryland.
Even so, the cost of construction, which includes regrading the field, adding protective fencing, installing covered benches, erecting a permanent backstop and providing an American With Disabilities Act access ramp, falls to the baseball league.
"It would be a long-term lease," said Riegel, a former RPBL president and board member who lives in Lutherville. "Now we rent fields at Gilman and the (St. Mary's) seminary, but we don't have a field to call our own."
Securing the field is close to becoming a reality, with the signing of a lease agreement March 22, according to Kimberly Min, RPBL's legal expert.
The attorney from Roland Park and a RPBL board member cautioned that there are still more steps to be taken before the process is completed, including approval by the Baltimore City Board of Estimates.
Yet so far, things are moving at an orderly pace, added Min, whose sons, Charlie and Henry, are RPBL players.
With Min's extensive experience in public/private real estate partnerships, she is helping shepherd through the deal with the city.
"From my perspective, the level of professionalism by all involved was really an important piece of making this happen," said Min.
She was praising the joint efforts of Baltimore City Councilman Leon Pinkett, Bob Wall of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, city government attorney Richard Kagan and Walter Horton of the city government real estate division
"We hope to have everything signed, sealed and delivered by the end of April," Min said, although the field will not be game-ready until the 2017 RPBL season. At one time, the land housed a ball field, judging from an old backstop on the property.
The league is the biggest of its kind within the city limits and believed to be larger than all other city youth baseball programs combined, making the new field a necessity rather than a luxury.
"We used to limit membership to the 21210, 21212 and 21218 (zip codes)," said Lousie Macsherry, who has been affiliated with the RPBL for 45 years and whose Roland Avenue home serves as the organization's headquarters. "But the last 10 or 15 years we've opened it up. We take them from Federal Hill, Owings Mills, all over the place."
In addition to fields at Gilman and St. Mary's, RPBL also stages games and practices on fields at Poly, Roland Park Elementary/Middle Schools, Stony Run Park, Wyman Park, Druid Hill Park, the University of Baltimore and Chinquapin Park.
"We only pay a small fee at Gilman because we are subsidized there," said RPBL commissioner Kurt Overton about the Phillip O. Rogers Memorial Trust set up by a former Gilman student's family that allows as many as six games to be played simultaneously on the campus.
In a typical year, the RPBL boasts 65-70 teams and 700 participants playing 15 games in a variety of age-groups divisions, namely T-ball (ages 5-6), International (7-8), National (9-10), American (11-12) and Teen (13-14) leagues while living up to its motto, "Little League — Big Fun."
As the league's drawing power spreads into other residential areas, its membership is growing at a healthy clip as evidenced by a bumper crop of 800 players signing up to play last spring and the same amount projected for the upcoming 2016 campaign.
Fees run from $125 and shrink by $25 per sibling, per family — except for T-Ball, which is full price. However, it costs a little more to play on one of the nine competitive travel teams.
Endowments allow RPBL's Get in the Game program to assist those who can't afford fees and equipment, opening opportunities for a batch of new players to join in the fun.
A slew of volunteers maintains the league's popularity as it approaches its 65th opening-day ceremony, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. April 16 at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, 5207 Roland Ave. A silent auction fundraiser at 9 a.m. kicks off the event.
Later that afternoon, the RPBL will be the special guest when the Johns Hopkins University baseball squad hosts Centennial Conference opponent Swarthmore College. The RPBL kids will be invited to run the bases, meet Hopkins players, earn an opportunity to throw out the first pitch, participate in between-innings competitions and play baseball bingo.
Veteran Blue Jays coach Bob Babb, whose team is off to a 10-6-1 start this spring, has a long-standing connection with the RPBL and was a board member. Moreover, Babb's father-in-law, David Mock, is one of the original RPBL founders.
"People just have a strong affinity for the league," Overton said, pointing to the substantial amount already raised for the new field.
Macsherry's daughter, Caroline Macsherry Mapp, noted that the RPBL appealed to many current and former RPBL members for donations.
"We dug out old records and did a mailing," said Mapp, one of only three girls in the RPBL back in her playing days for the Kings, Tigers and Junior Orioles.