Hutker Architects



The Making of Penn Field

“Little League baseball is a very good thing, because it keeps the parents off the streets.”- Yogi Berra

I played competitive baseball until I was twenty years old. After that, I have coached high school and/or youth baseball for another twenty years. I have always appreciated what appears, to me, to be the most precise of all competitive team sports. I also happen to love the fact that baseball has been played for over 150 years on a “diamond,” with a raised “pitching mound” in its center and the opposing chalk lined “batter’s box”.  There are bases, foul poles (inexplicably titled) and foul lines, on deck circles, coaches’ boxes, dugouts, bullpens and a warning track – all of which add to this outdoor theater.

In his 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” Ray Kinsella painted a tactile picture of how a baseball field, of all things, could be socially intriguing.  The whispered line “If you build it, he (they) will come” has been the inspirational root for innumerable baseball fields ever since.

Fast forward: In 2008, the Martha’s Vineyard Little League program was hoping to create similar intrigue by converting not a corn field, but an old car dump into a meeting place for learning and playing the game of baseball, while families and friends could comfortably gather and cheer the kids on. The premise was worthy, the task in doing so was far more complicated…

At first glance, the property looked perfect…flat, open and big enough to build the dream. Upon closer inspection, even after removing decades’ worth of automobiles, the land itself was littered with glass and metal debris, invasive roots, and compacted sand that would prove to be a drainage nightmare. Additionally, there was no legal road access or utilities, no topsoil and very little money. With such impediments, the project floundered for the following three years. By 2012, much of the initial $200K in Community Preservation Fund dollars allotted for the field had been absorbed by clean-up efforts, and the entire project was on the brink of stagnation. I was asked by a dwindling group of volunteers/coaches if I would design a field complex in hopes that the design drawings would suggest some positive momentum for the project, as well as help garner additional financial support and/or in-kind work.

I must admit, imagining the transformation of this property was exciting. I thought of the Ray Kinsella character often. At times, however, this field of dreams became more of a personal crusade as the initial volunteers began to drift on to other projects with their aging children. There were moments I wished I could step away, but having my name attached to the design drawings kept me tethered and hoping for a solution. If the project was to become real, I would need more money…a lot more money.

I reached out to friends, organizations, and businesses in search of grants, donations and/or in-kind services. A recent change in the law regarding the distribution of Community Preservation funds allowed me the opportunity to “cross town lines”, so I appealed to four of the island towns asking for another $200,000 in total. I received approvals for $135,000. That money allowed us to confidently take on the work of installing an access road, supplying underground utilities, cleaning the property of remaining glass and metal, installing a clean sand base, and importing $75,000 of top soil.

Things were just starting to look up when we encountered several unforeseen hurdles, each impacting schedule and budget. With about $100,000 of remaining funds, and with a projected $200,000 of work still to come, I was beginning to accept the realization that Little League moms, dads and players would have to return to “tin cup” fund raising, which could easily take another five years or so.

Then, in the fall of 2013, I read a brief story in the local newspaper describing a new philanthropic organization on Island. MV Youth was a group of 40 individuals who had decided to collectively donate $1M annually over the course of a 5-yr pilot program, to initiatives serving local island children.  Applications were due in just over a month and my initial interview with the organization’s administrative clerk suggested there would be lots of paperwork required. I enlisted the help of the incomparable Susie Himel, and within three weeks we had pulled together anything and everything we thought might possibly help get them behind the project. We were one of fourteen organizations to apply and, in February, we were one of two organizations to receive their requested funding.

Photo by Ivy Ashe

The project was immediately reinvigorated. Through the remainder of 2014, the practice and game field were surveyed and fenced. Irrigation lines were buried and grass was planted. Two dugouts and the maintenance shed were constructed, and power was turned on. In 2015, the batting tunnel was erected, parking areas were established, and bleachers were installed. Shade and concession shelters were built. Trees were planted, picnic tables were delivered, and a beautiful red sandy clay infield mix was installed on the pitching mound and base paths. Our flag pole and the scoreboard were activated.

Two months behind schedule, due to the incredulous weather during the winter of 2015, we were ready for opening day or, in this case, playoff weekend. Better late than never! The games that opening day were well attended, and by more than just family members and friends. Much of the island community was aware of all this project had gone through, so there were lots of curious onlookers full of praise. Later that summer there were new hurdles thanks to mother nature. The irrigation pump failed, and the grass was lost due to drought. The fall brought torrential rains, which proved the sandy clay infield mix to be poor drainage material. A large standing puddle encompassed the base paths, making a welcoming respite for deer, ducks and geese, but not so great for base runners and fielders. We had to start over. The entire infield surface (grass and base paths) was excavated. A matrix of sub-surface drainage pipes was installed, the infield mix was replaced, and new grass was planted.

Thankfully, the following winter was mild. Opening Day 2016 and the ensuing season exceeded all expectations. The championship saw the A’s upset the vaunted Cubs in an exciting game that generated enough cheering to result in at least one neighbor leaving an angry message on my home phone.

Photos by Maria Thibodeau
Photo by Chris Roberts

About the Author – Phil Regan, pictured here with sons Jared and Jeremy, leads Hutker Architects’ Martha’s Vineyard office. An island native with deep understanding of the local landscape, he is especially skilled at assembling teams and bringing the right group of collaborators together for each project. In addition to coaching for Little League, Babe Ruth, and high school teams for many years, he serves as a volunteer for Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation (where he is also a board member), the Boys and Girls Club, and Vineyard Baseball, Inc.