CALIFORNIA CITY ― The California City Little League has been busy coordinating sign-ups for a possible season this year, even as volunteers and contractors renovate once disheveled ball fields on California City Boulevard.
After a scuttled season in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Little League president Todd Broussard remains cautiously optimistic a season will happen this year.
"The majority of the folks are still interested and wanting to get their kids outside,” Broussard said during an interview on Feb. 4. “It’s just a matter of COVID and complying with regulations.”
Youth who signed up and had their fees paid last year but were unable to play will be credited for this season, Broussard said. New sign-ups will be required to pay the standard fees.
"Any kid who signed up last year plays this year for free," Broussard said. "New kids will have to register."
Broussard said the little league was unable to provide a refund last year because by much of the money had been spent by the time season was canceled under Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home mandate. The money went to Little League charter fees, equipment and other essential items, Broussard said.
Under California Department of Public Health's current pandemic guidelines, or "Blueprint for a Safer Economy," Kern County would have to enter the red tier of a four-colored tier system, or "substantial" COVID-19 rates before a season could start. Kern, like most of California, remains in the purple, or widespread, tier.
CDPH established guidelines on what youth and adult sports would be permissible under the current "Blueprint" model; for red tier counties, outdoor moderate contact sports such as baseball and softball are permissible as long as teams follow strict guidelines.
The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body for high school sports, adopted similar rules that have considerably delayed school sports for the 2020-2021 academic year.
"I know we are capable of doing it, it's just a matter of playing under league restrictions," Broussard said. He added that Little League, as a national organization, adhere to strict guidelines required of all its charter members, including California City.
“It’s kind of a wait and see, but we’re trying to get a season ready,” Broussard said.
To that extent, he said Cal City Little League continues to look for volunteers to fill all roles, including umpires, coaches, for field work and to help out at the snack bar or with fundraising.
Despite a canceled season, Broussard said he's been busy over the past year ― mostly to ensure that the Herman J. Cooper fields on California City Boulevard are brought up to a respectable standard to host home games.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been donated and invested into the fields, with volunteers providing labor for improvements.
While California City owns the fields and helps with maintenance, the little language maintains responsibility for major upgrades along with utilities.
Golden Queen Mining Company in Mojave donated more than $6,000 allocated to replacing the fencing around the juniors field, where teens play baseball.
In addition, other businesses and organizations have donated money specifically for field renovations. Among those donations, Broussard said, include $5,000 from Pete Madrid and Leland Krelle of ASAP Heating and Air, $5,000 from Michael Ellison of ACE Hardware, and $15,000 from Ray Wilkins of INQU and Force Off-Road.
He added his cousin has contributed $20,000 in volunteer labor from his company, I.M. Masonry. Jerry Heller of High Desert Development donated framing labor for softball dugouts and Pastor Ron Smith of Victory Baptist Church provided labor for painting.
Pepper Williams have been providing general contractor services for the field renovations.
The improvements show, especially in the softball field, which Broussard has mostly been completed.
"To date we have the rebuilt the soft ball dugouts, the fencing was redone, as were the backstops and the infield clay," Broussard said. "The dugouts were so small that all the girls couldn't fit in them."
Volunteers are currently working on improvements and new dugouts for the minors/majors (7-12 year old) baseball field, as well as some of the fencing work. He called the softball field renovations a prototype, with improvements made on the plan once work for the minors/majors field improvements began. This includes more secure, steel-based storage areas for sports gear ― an improvement over past storage areas.
"The storage area went from eight feet to 20 feet, so we can get more equipment in there," he said.
Broussard said most of the work should be finished by the time a season does start.
He said more improvements beyond fencework and dugouts for the minors/majors fields will take a little longer and more fundraising efforts, in large part due to increased materials cost. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted manufacturing sectors nationwide and caused shortages in materials such as lumber.
But the league will manage, he said, and will continue to look for and accept large donations to help complete the work.
A major goal, later down the line, would to be either completely replace or renovate the field's snack bar and office building, a wooden structure that's been present since the field's construction at least 40 years ago.
"That's a going to be a big dollar item," Broussard said, noting it would cost at least $500,000. He added it would take either a large donor or a dedicated fundraising effort to raise that much money.
If construction were to go through the city, it would also require public bidding process and public hearings under state law.
The league has also been re-seeding the fields and doing weed control over the past 10 months.
Broussard said the improvements made to date have completely reshaped the fields.
"Two years ago, these fields were a mess," Broussard said. "These fields just used to be goat heads ... right now they look better than before."
Broussard said he's been involved in local youth baseball for the past 15 years with the goal of helping out where needed. When he took on the role of the league's board president, his goal to improve the fields was redoubled.
Broussard added safety factored heavily into the fields' improvements.
"Before we redid the juniors/seniors field, all the fencing was rolled up with everything sticking out toward the field," Broussard said. "It was dangerous. We had teams that wouldn’t come out to play the fields were in such bad shape. Two years ago, we had probably 16 games on the schedule and they played seven because nobody would come out here and play."
Once completed, Broussard said his goal will to be reverse that image ― and capitalize on the ability to serve as a prime location for tournaments. Doing so would, he added, in turn benefit California City's economy as visitors would spend money at local businesses.
"Our fields will be better than everyone else’s and my hope is to hold some tournaments and show what Cal City has available," Broussard said. "I want the outside world to be able to come here and bring more baseball to the community.