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Ignoring pleas from baseball fans throughout the area, the Tel Aviv Jaffa Municipality is moving ahead with plans to downgrade the city's only baseball field and return it to its previous state of disrepair, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
As a result, supporters of the sport, both in Israel and abroad, have initiated an eleventh-hour campaign aimed at dissuading the municipality from following through with the decision.
The baseball field, located at Sportek in Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park, was renovated earlier this year with funds donated by North American Jews for use by the Israel Baseball League in its inaugural season.
Under a contract signed between the league and the municipality, extensive new fencing was erected before the summer to delineate the outfield, and other improvements were made to the grounds.
The field was controversial from the start of the inaugural IBL season when disputes with the Tel Aviv Municipality lead to it opening a few weeks late. When it opened it became the home ground of the Tel Aviv Lightning and Netanya Tigers.
Prior to the renovations, the field had an uneven surface, with holes and bumps, and it lacked a proper outfield boundary.
At the time, however, the city conditioned the upgrades on a pledge from the league to reverse them at the end of the season, which was completed last month.
Now, city officials are adamant that the outfield fence be removed and, oddly, that the grounds be restored to their previous inferior state.
"We spent the money necessary to improve the baseball field so that the growing community baseball program in Tel Aviv, which is mostly comprised of children, can have a good, safe field on which to play," Israel Baseball League founder Larry Baras told the Post.
But the city, he says, is demanding that the field be returned "to the same condition in which we found it".
Contacted by the Post, the Tel Aviv Municipality issued a statement saying, "An agreement was signed with the league, in which it was agreed upon by the two sides that upon completion of the league's tournament, the fence would be disbanded and the entire area would be returned to its previous state".
A municipality spokesman refused to explain the logic behind the decision.
Since the improvements were made, the field, which had already been in use for years by local baseball enthusiasts as well as by the non-profit Israel Association for Baseball (IAB), has grown in popularity.
The IAB holds year-round youth clinics, and organizes baseball teams and tournaments in various towns and cities around the country, including Tel Aviv.
Appeals by the league and by the IAB to reverse the decision have thus far proved fruitless. "We have written to the mayor," Baras said, "and we have tried to work through emissaries with those in the municipality who are involved, but to no avail."
The IAB has now launched a last-ditch campaign to save the field, encouraging people in Israel and abroad to write to Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai in an effort to convince him to change course.
While allowing that municipal officials are fully within their legal right to insist on the fence being torn down, said IAB president Haim Katz said he failed to understand their refusal to leave it in place.
"They built the fence here, so why destroy it?" Katz asked. "It isn't hurting anyone and it doesn't bother anyone, so why not just let the kids use the field the way it is, so that Tel Aviv has at least one proper baseball field?"
Pointing to a soccer field next to the baseball diamond, Katz noted that the fence serves as an effective barrier between the two.
Baras said he too was "saddened" by the city's approach to the entire matter. "Tearing down the fence is clearly 'lose-lose' for all concerned," he said, adding that as a result of the decision, the league would not be using the field in Tel Aviv next year.
"We plan on playing elsewhere," he said.
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