With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Play Ball! A Proposal For Hartford's Empty Lots

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game being played last night and the financial plight of Hartford's Roberto Clemente League being in the local news, we can't help but have baseball on the mind. (Ok, we pretty much always have baseball on the mind) But what does that have to do with Hartford? Is this going to be another hair-brained article about the Mets relocating to town? Not quite.

Blight is a much discussed topic in Hartford and similarly situated cities. Abandoned buildings don't do anyone any good, they cause an increase in crime and devalue surrounding properties.  Yet what to do about this blight? This is a question that causes considerable hand-wringing and little solutions in the Hartford community.  Knocking down blighted buildings is an obvious, but expensive solution. The last year or so has seen the high profile demolition of the renowned Butt-Ugly building and plans to demolish the long abandoned Capitol West building.

What to do after the buildings are torn down? More often than not, the lot remains empty, unmaintained, and unused. An improvement over an abandoned building for sure, but still not great. That's where we propose an idea. An idea that might be a little more feasible than building a racetrack around downtown. Why doesn't Hartford take some of these empty lots and turn them into Wiffle Ball fields for the community?

Sports of course are great activities for youths to be involved in. Baseball, America's game, requires a lot of people to play, a lot of space to play, and some fairly expensive equipment. These factors are all attributed to the steady decline over the last two decades of American urban youth playing baseball. This problem has caused Major League Baseball to implement the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) in hopes of fostering participation in baseball and softball.

Wiffle Ball has few of the barriers to play that baseball has. While requiring only two to play, a game can accomodate a handful of players. The space required is much less, (even Jose Bautista would be hard pressed to hit a Wiffle Ball much more than 100 feet) the cost of equipment is nominal, and Wiffle Balls don't break any windows.

The Wiffle Ball Inc. also happens to be a legendary Connecticut company.  They have been family owned and making Wiffle Balls out of the Shelton factory since it opened in 1959. Wiffle Ball is a popular game with established rules and tournaments all over the country. Wildly popular and nationally played, it would be a nice touch for the Hartford, as the capital, to pay tribute to one of Connecticut's most iconic  brands. Why couldn't the city even build on this and host a regional or even national Wiffle Ball championships? If anywhere is going to do it it should be Connecticut. Why not Hartford?

What would it cost to turn an empty lot into a Wiffle Ball field? This is the best part as it would cost Hartford very little. Once the lot is cleared of rocks and glass there isn't much more needed. A strike zone can be made out of corrugated pipe and a sheet and metal and stuck in the ground. After that all that would be needed is the occasionally spray paint touch up of lines on the field. (see dimensions here) We would imagine it would be a minimal burden for a city worker could do this once a month or so.

If one wanted to get a little more involved, some chain link fence could be put up at the home run line. Everyone knows hitting a home run is a lot more fun when there is a fence to clear. We can't imagine a short span of chain link fence is all that costly.

Why stop there? Imagine if Hartford decided to really set itself apart. How about building the home run walls as mini replicas of Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium? While this would require some wood, paint and know how, we are willing to bet that some local businesses and handy people would be willing to donate some material and labor to the project. Surely some civic minded businesses would be willing to make a small investment for sponsorship om something so unique to Hartford.

 Sad City can say that we would happily sponsor a field and while we lack any requisite know how, we can donate labor. It's something that could be a source of great pride for Hartford, something that people in the community could enjoy, and if Hartford were to position itself as the Wiffle Ball Capital, pay tribute to a iconic Connecticut company and bring some much needed positive attention to our city. All at what would be a very modest cost and make use of some of the empty lots around town.

If Hartford hosted Wiffle Ball tournaments and they were organized properly, it might even become a draw and bring people and revenue into the city. We really don't see much downside to the idea. It may not be the best idea and won't solve all Hartford's, but given bemoaning of Hartford's ills and too often little in the way of productive and feasible ideas, this is an actual idea. That counts for something right?


  1. It's a great idea, well thought out and used successfully in Pawnee by Leslie Knope, so it'll remain untried.

  2. It really is a great idea, but like all great ideas, it needs someone to see it through. There will undoubtedly be all the naysayers, and "great minds" who will set up many fiery hoops to jump through. Without someone who possesses vision, it, like many great ideas will be DOA.

  3. Knox Parks is actually hosting a Wiffle Ball Tournament this September 10th in Bushnell Park. For more information and to sign up, please email BarbaraN@knoxparks.org.

    See you on the field!