A place to play

YOUNGSTOWN -- Printed in crisp white letters on a blue background is the hope for a field, a neighborhood and a city:
"Give a boy a ball, a bat and a place to play, you never need worry he will go astray."
The neighborhood in plain view of the Pemberton Field sign, however, has seen less optimistic days. Even the houses are survivors, with some bearing fresh paint or trim lawns but with a bashed window or two shattering the image that all's well.
Repairing the damage of economic and cultural hardship that has befallen Youngstown isn't a one-step process, but a fresh coat of paint or new playground equipment can be a catalyst, said Joseph McRae, director of the Youngstown Parks and Recreation Department.
The city spent $14,320 of its 2001 budget demolishing Pemberton's decrepit, wooden third-base-line bleachers, leveling the area and installing a new side railing on the existing stands.
It was one of a plethora of projects meant to enhance a city where pockets of beauty are becoming rarer.
Gone tomorrow: "In an urban situation, you have to beautify what you do have because tomorrow it might not be there," McRae said.
Since last June, $407,517 was doled out among Pemberton and five parks -- Bancroft, Fosterville, Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, Schenley and Wick -- according to park department records.
Projects debuting Wednesday -- opening day for 10 city parks and two pools -- ranged from a playground deck system and basketball court repairs at Bancroft that cost $79,730 to security frames and eight windows at Wick Park, costing $3,567.
The projects were financed by the city, federal grants and bond issue money.
The rest of Pemberton's estimated $50,000 in renovations came from the company CTW, owner of the field's Wooden Bat League team, Youngstown Express.
The city sees the upgrades in its best interest.
"This gives people an alternative to do something positive," McRae said.
A face-lift: Residents of nearby streets with big-league names -- Philadelphia, Boston, Florida -- watched for weeks as fresh coats of red, white and blue paint hid the ancient murky green on the Pemberton stands and home-run fence. The lawn was sprayed and manicured, the base paths smoothed down.
Tuesday night, the only betrayal of the "sweat-and-blood" work, as Express co-owner Jack Kucek called it, was a mound of dirt behind the third-base dugout, where a boy and a girl were frolicking.
"This is somethin' to represent the Youngstown name," said Ronald Betters, a 45-year-old who made the two-minute walk from his home to the South Side park for the first time in the two years he's lived there.
"It looks like the major leagues to me, just smaller," he said, nodding approvingly toward the college players being watched by a crowd of about 60.
Several steps down, neighborhood boys Brian Golec, 11, and Tyler Dugan, 8, peered through the fence near home plate, impressed with the park's face-lift.
Remarking that the field no longer "looked nasty," Brian said he would play at Pemberton "until we move."
"But," he said, eyeing the team and Tyler, baseball in hand, "I'll probably come back, though."

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