After 60 years of playing baseball at Veterans Memorial Park in Hollister, the Babe Ruth League will not be stepping up to the plate to bat this fall season because of the arson fire that destroyed a wooden tool shed, damaged bleachers and a light standard that has been red tagged.
Greg Lopez, president of the league, said the league is working with county officials to determine what the county owns. He said the ground-keeping equipment, including a golf cart in the shed was destroyed, none of which were insured. The league is holding fundraising events, including a gofundme page to pay for the equipment. He said the gofundme page is official, but in his name because of the requirement to have a valid email address. He said because of a glitch the page originally showed the league was attempting to raise a billion dollars. He has since been able to change the page to show that the league is attempting to raise $25,000.
“We have donations coming in and volunteers who have offered to help,” he said. “Through our insurance, equipment such as helmets, protective gear and balls were covered. All of that was in a separate shed and was not damaged.”
He said the main reason the league may miss the entire season, which had been scheduled to begin Sept. 16, is that the light standard needs to be taken down and replaced. He said the damage involves more than just the pole itself. The removal and replacement involves heavy equipment and underground power lines will most likely need to be repaired or replaced. Lopez said PG&E estimates it will cost as much as $10,000 just to replace the pole, not including wiring.
“It suffered such heavy fire damage it’s not safe,” he said. “Because of the weight there’s a potential for it to fall. Because the investigation is still going on we can’t demolish anything that has been completed, so they can go back to collect evidence or take photos. It’s a waiting game now, working with the investigators and the county to determine when we can get in there and do the demolition and remove the light standard.”
Lopez said investigators found there were other attempts to start fires on the property. He said investigators are following up leads from social media. He said the county’s insurance estimator still needs to come to the site to determine the potential cost to the county. He said there would be a Veterans Park Commission meeting Sept. 18 to determine what action will be taken and how long it will take. He said if the commission is willing to pay something the league has had offers of donations for a metal container.
“There’s also volunteers who are contractors who’ve said they would rebuild the wooden shed,” he said. “Everything is dependent on the insurance companies and when the investigation is finalized.”
Lopez said the Babe Ruth League will not be able to use the other fields. He did say, however, that the Bambino Buddy-Ball League, which are special needs kids, may be able to use the Little League or softball fields because they do not need to play on a regulation size field. He said he might approach the high school, but did not think it will be a consideration because it is a closed campus and the school district would most likely not want to be liable in case someone were injured.
Since the fire was first reported on Sept. 8, and a witness told the police that he saw two adult males running from the field and then climb over the fence along Hillcrest Road and run into an apartment complex across the street, Lopez said another witness has apparently reported seeing several teenagers also running away from the scene of the fire toward the skate park. He said from time to time homeless people have stayed in the tunnel behind where the burned-out shed is located. He thinks because of the nature of the attempted arson fires it was more likely teens who set them and perhaps the men running away were the homeless individuals who may have even witnessed the arson fire and did not want to be involved.