May 23—On a recent Sunday, young ball players were trying out the batting cages at Latimer Field while their younger siblings placed small orange flags to mark gopher holes to be filled in the outfield.
Restoration of the neglected youth baseball and softball complex got underway April 30 just outside New Alexandria, in Derry Township.
"The community support has been so heartwarming," said Nicole Frayvolt, a Derry Area Youth Athletic Association board member who helped lead rejuvenation of the field and expand facilities available for association softball and baseball games and practice sessions for ages 7-14.
Local businesses donated needed materials, and area fire departments also pitched in. A township crew arrived Thursday to prepare the infields to receive fresh soil.
In addition to players' families, neighbors and other community volunteers showed up to help with the considerable tasks of refurbishing neglected buildings and clearing away the brush and trees that overtook the 10-acre complex while it remained unused for a decade.
"We've got people showing up who don't have kids in the league. They just played here when they were kids or they lived here," Frayvolt said. "People are showing up, picking up a paint brush or a weed whacker, and going to town."
New Alexandria baseball teams used Latimer Field beginning in 1991, followed by a local soccer program. But, when those programs waned, the complex fell into disuse.
Now, a decade later, with the blessing of property owner Darlene Latimer, volunteers painted over graffiti on structures and hauled trash from a concession stand where trespassers held illicit parties.
In addition to the fields, trees grew inside some of the concrete block dugouts, shifting player benches that Frayvolt's husband, Bob, is working to jack up and re-stabilize.
"There was so much growth here, we completely missed that there was a Tee ball field," said Frayvolt, a Derry Township resident. "It was covered in shrubs. We didn't know there was a backstop there.
"It was exciting to find something like that. It increases the amount of kids you can bring out here."
Frayvolt coordinates the athletic association's softball games. She began looking for additional fields when, during the emergence from the covid-19 pandemic, the program attracted more kids — beyond what could be accommodated at existing facilities, including fields in Derry Borough.
Counting both softball and baseball players, she said, "For close to 300 kids, it just wasn't big enough. I had to schedule 74 games just for softball. I couldn't do this with the fields that I have."
"Softball is a growing sport," said Bob Frayvolt, who has two daughters enrolled in the league. "We've had parents coming here telling us how this is a great opportunity for the girls. That pushes us. Everybody's excited to see this come to fruition and see this used."
Players have held some informal softball practices at Latimer Field as work continues on reclaiming the fields. Nicole Frayvolt hopes to have two regulation fields available within a few weeks for remaining spring season games. Her ultimate goal is to have the entire complex — including a larger Pony league field and the Tee ball field — ready for use when the athletic association's fall season begins in August.
"It's been a massive undertaking," she said, estimating it may cost $20,000 just for getting Latimer Field in shape for use in practices. "We would not have been able to get a fraction of this done if it wasn't for people who were willing to help out, but we need a lot more help."
She's hoping the league, now focused on intramurals and games against Ligonier opponents, can expand its reach to include playing teams from other communities.
"That love that we had for playing ball when we were growing up, I want it to spread to all of these kids," she said.
To sign up for the league's fall season or for more information, visit derryareayouthsports.com or contact Nicole Frayvolt at 724-672-8305.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .