The San Benito Babe Ruth League had been looking forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary this fall until an arsonist lit up the group’s equipment at Veterans Memorial Park.
“There was an arson fire set down at the field,” said Greg Lopez, president of the San Benito Babe Ruth League. “They lit an equipment shed on fire, the bleachers and one of our light poles.”
The Babe Ruth League is a step up from Little League, where youth ages 13 to 15 and 16 to 18 play in separate divisions. Approximately 200 kids participate in the 13–15 age group.
According to the Hollister Police Department, there are no suspects at this time.
The arson, which took place on Sept. 7, not only forced the league to cancel the fall season, but San Benito County red-tagged the field as unsafe.
“We’ve been reaching out for donations and had volunteers who helped clean up and replace some of the items,” Lopez said. “Unfortunately, with the cost of commodities and stuff, electrical isn’t cheap to replace. With the stadium lighting, in just a preliminary talk with the county they were looking at upwards of $20,000 in damages.”
The San Benito Babe Ruth League has a contract with the county to use the facility at Veterans Memorial Park.
“At the present time, county staff is working to formulate a work plan with regard to the repairs at Vets Park,” a county official said. “However, insurance issues remain to be resolved. Once the issue of payment for damages is resolved, staff can then proceed to work with all affected stakeholders to determine the best course of action going forward.”
A field cleanup day was held on Sept.23, when 25 volunteers worked to clean up the damaged shed and equipment, and dismantle the destroyed bleachers.
Despite that, the situation has halted the local baseball league.
“For our spring program, we have try-outs at the end of January and the season starts in March,” Lopez said. “I’m hesitant and worried that we won’t be able to make that deadline.”
It’s not as easy as finding another baseball field to play on, as conflicts with other league schedules and field specifications can be a hindrance, he said.
“Two hundred kids don’t get to play,” Lopez said. “The whole reason this exists is to give the youth something to do in our community so they’re not starting fires and destroying property. It’s disheartening.”
To donate, go to https://givesanbenito.org/disaster-relief