By John Monaco
Children have played sports on Burke School property at least since 1937, when the main building to Burke School was built. For most of that time, however, no formal athletic facilities were present on Burke School property and the place where baseball was played was a very poor state of affairs. The original baseball field at Burke School was located basically where the present Fenway Park is, with home plate in the same general area. A too-small wire mesh backstop surrounded the plate, with overgrown bushes and small trees immediately behind the backstop. The field itself was severely sloped downward towards the school, and as a result, topsoil from the field was frequently washed away and large rocks revealed. These field conditions meant that the baseball field at Burke School could only be used by West Springfield Little League as a practice field, and not a very good one at that.
The Executive Vice-President of West Springfield Little League (WSLL) in the late 1990’s was Rick Muehleib, who was keenly aware of the need for WSLL to develop permanent fields and of the potential for developing such a field at Burke School. He also was familiar with the various matching funds programs to upgrade athletic fields through the Fairfax County Government, and in 1999, he met with the Principal of Burke School, Susan Knecht, and Facilities Coordinator, Andy Muir, to discuss the possibility of working together to build a new baseball field meeting Little League specifications at Burke School. After that meeting, Mr. Muehleib wrote a matching grant proposal with the Fairfax County Recreation Department that included leveling and grading the field, fencing the field and installing an in-ground irrigation system.
In late 1999, work started with heavy construction equipment and several days were spent moving dirt and leveling the field. The field was first built to have a 150 ft fence; which Andy Muir identified as a clerical error, but then the problem was that there was a lack of soil to complete the job. Mr. Muir quickly negotiated for the donation of a large pile of excavated soil by D & A Construction, which had resulted from a building renovation at Burke School, and this fill soil provided the foundation on which the field could be developed.
In 2000-2001, the fence and irrigation systems were installed. This provided an environment in which the grass could be nurtured and field use limited. It was quickly becoming apparent that the drainage of the field provided a playable field even after considerable rain, as some slope was built into the field to allow rainwater to easily drain off through the outfield. Casey Haines of the Fairfax County Government, Department of Community and Recreational Services, made available the resources for the installation of concrete pads, aluminum seats and benches in the spectator and dugout areas that provided both players and spectators with excellent conditions from which to watch the games.
In 2001, George Pedersen of West Springfield Little League became involved in the development of the Burke field. He designed and supervised the installation of a batting cage, which was installed along the third base line, and the construction of new dugouts at the field. Mr. Pedersen personally supervised all of this work, most which was completed during the months of January and February 2003 when temperatures were often at or below freezing. In 2003, Colbert Roofing, Inc. generously donated the roofing for the dugouts.
The first West Springfield games were played on the newly refurbished Burke School field in 2003, and the field was later named Fenway Park in a dedication ceremony led by WSLL President John Polcari. Later in 2003 and in early 2004, improvements continued, again under the supervision of Mr. Pedersen and Mr. Muir. A problem had developed in the baseball infield because a settling of the original excavation sections of the infield was causing balls to hop dangerously. The Fairfax County Public Schools Grounds Department removed and leveled the entire infield. This work was completed to the highest possible standards providing a surface on which thousands of square feet of sod were subsequently laid.
Work continued on Fenway Park in 2004, with the addition of bat and helmet racks that were constructed and donated by David Frazier of WSLL. Additional safety fencing was also added to the first and third base foul lines to protect spectators from fly balls and overthrows at this time. Prior to the 2005 season additional improvements were made including the addition of a storage shed with space allocated for a concession stand. In 2006 the electronic scoreboard was installed and in 2007 the concession stand opened and a score booth was erected. Much of the improvements at Fenway are the result of hard work by WSLL Board member George Pedersen. Thanks George!
Fenway Park at Burke School has now become one of the premier Little League fields in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
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