NEAR WEST SIDE — A popular park in Little Italy with a beautifully renovated field has rebuffed a private youth baseball league’s request to use the grounds on the one day each week set aside for community use — a move adding fuel to a long-standing feud over the private vs. public use of the park.
Currently, Sheridan Park, at 910 S. Aberdeen St., is used by the league, St. Ignatius College Prep and other groups — at least 10 in all — for organized sports six days a week. The synthetic turf field is off limits to members of the public during those times.
Sunday was the only day set aside for general use of the field.
But this year, Sheridan Park Baseball & Softball — which has 400 kids from across the city in its eight baseball and softball divisions — pushed to also hold organized games at the park on Sundays. The league, which uses the field four nights during the week and all day Saturday, has its opening day this Saturday.
A February meeting of the park's independent advisory council became heated when a league official demanded more playing time on Sundays, according to a source who attended the meeting. At least one advisory council member left the meeting in tears.
“There really is a lot of tension right now between parents and the guys running the leagues,” said Steve Carm, who owns nearby Carm's Beef and Italian Ice, at 1057 W. Polk St., and who donates $500-$2,000 to the league every year. “I used to just write my check and not ask questions. This is the first year I’m asking questions.”
At an advisory council meeting last week, Sandy Albecker, who lives in a town home complex next to the park with his family, also expressed concern about the private leagues that use the park.
“Why is this park so heavily used for baseball as opposed to sports that would be more representative of the community?” asked Albecker, who has objected to the park being used by "strangers ... taking our parking spaces."
“The neighborhood kids have been [kept] off the park, and there is a huge demand for other activities out in this park," Albecker said.
But Herb Keeler, president of the Sheridan Park Baseball league, said the field — which was renovated with $755,000 in 25th Ward aldermanic funds in 2011 — should be used as much as possible.
The field's "a great asset and something that should be utilized every day," said Keeler, who said his league would wait until next year to pursue Sunday play time.
"There are a lot of community concerns. I get that as well," he said.
While immediate neighbors said that many kids in the league don't actually live in the neighborhood closest to the field, Keeler said most players reside within a few miles of the park.
"How do you define the neighborhood? We have kids represented from every neighborhood that you represent in your paper," he said, estimating that 65 percent to 70 percent of the kids that play in the league live within 3 miles of park.
He said that the league also agreed to donate $10,000 annually over five years for field maintenance and the league gives scholarships for players that can't afford the fees of about $200.
Keeler said his league is also working with the council to extend this year's baseball season through July, a first for the park.
He, too, complained about outside groups using the field, however.
"The real issue are these corporate leagues that bogart their way onto the field," he said, including on Sundays.
In addition to the baseball leagues, the private Chicago Sport & Social Club leases the field, including softball leagues starting in July.
Club officials couldn't immediately be reached for comment. But its website notes that "the turf field at Sheridan Park is one of the newest and best locations to play softball and soccer in the city. Located near the UIC campus, the skyline offers an incredible backdrop for our leagues."
Other residents have complained about St. Ignatius College Prep's use of the field. The Catholic school, which draws students from the city and suburbs, holds practices at Sheridan four days a week from 3-5:30 p.m.
Pat McGovern, the school's assistant athletic director, said she was unaware of any complaints about her school's use of the field. Members of the public aren't allowed to use Ignatius' own fields except in limited circumstances — but McGovern said Sheridan Park's track team does use its campus for meets or practices several times a year.
"We’ve used their field for over 10 years, and we’re not taking field space away from those kids," she said. "It's never been mentioned to us before as an issue."
Ultimately, the advisory council and Chicago Park District officials rejected the baseball league's request to play on Sundays.
At the advisory council meeting last week, members said they supported the district's decision and said Park District staff had been out recently stopping organized leagues from playing or practicing on Sundays.
“Fields are not available for rental [on Sundays], thereby giving all members of the community an opportunity to take advantage of the fields," Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said in an email. "If a group is in violation of the rules and regulations relating to permitting or using the space, Chicago Park District staff will alert them.”
Ald. Danny Solis (25th), a big proponent of renovating the field, also supports keeping it open to the community on Sundays.
“Alderman Solis has heard from a number of residents in the community around Sheridan Park that they support maintaining the Sunday community day. The alderman was integral in the creation of community days to allow the community to use the great facilities at Sheridan Park. He is working to ensure that these open community days continue,” Solis spokeswoman Stacy Raker said via email.