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Key Biscayne's youth baseball program risks losing access to lighted ball fields in Crandon Park that it relies on for games.

“Take me out to the ballgame” may no longer be able to mean a trip to the Crandon Park fields the space-strapped Village relies on for its youth baseball program.

Miami-Dade County officials put the Village on notice last month that they would be removing the lighted baseball fields in Crandon Park that Key Biscayne Parks and Recreation uses for youth baseball games. With the Village’s spring baseball and softball season getting underway and running through June 1, the timing couldn’t be worse, said Village Council member Luis de la Cruz, one of the Council’s most vocal advocates of finding additional playing field space.

De la Cruz said Parks and Recreation Director Todd Hofferberth has been working diligently for the past six months petitioning the County for an extension on the Village’s use of the fields so they can be available throughout the 2018 youth baseball season.

The Village, which has extremely limited space for practice and play within its own boundaries, relies on the fields to accommodate its youth baseball teams.

But despite Hofferberth’s repeated pleas, “They didn’t respond,” De la Cruz said, until a March 29 letter from Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department Director Maria Nardi to Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay that states the fields will be removed.

“You don’t do that do somebody unless they’re your adversary – and we’re not their adversary, if anything we’re their partner in this,” de la Cruz said. “I’m extremely disappointed in Miami-Dade County – I think we all are.”

De la Cruz reached out to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who represents Key Biscayne, and secured a meeting for later today to discuss a Crandon Park field extension.

He said Village officials, including Village Attorney Steve Helfman, are also working on finding a solution; and former Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco, currently Miami-Dade County Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, has also stepped in on behalf of the Village.

“What I’m trying to do is somehow get these people to be human beings and realize we have a bunch of kids waiting to swing their bats,” De la Cruz said. “Our short-term goal is to try to convince them to let us use the fields until the season ends June 1.”

De la Cruz said he plans to put the issue on the Council’s agenda as soon as he has more concrete information on a possible solution.

The issue stems from what is allowed under the Crandon Park Master Plan, the agreement under which the County operates Crandon Park.

The County entered into the Master Plan as part of a settlement agreement with the Matheson family, who deeded the County the land for Crandon Park; the Master Plan states the facility is for “public park purposes only” and limits structures and uses within the park.

In her letter, Nardi states the Master Plan calls for the two baseball fields used by the Village to be replaced with natural turf for use as a multipurpose sports field.

The plan states field lighting was supposed to be removed by 2005, and also calls for removal of the baseball field backstops, according to Nardi.

Nardi notes the County Commission agreed to amend the Master Plan to allow the lighted fields to stay in place through 2013, but, “We recently received a letter from Carlton Fields, representing Bruce Matheson, identifying the baseball fields and sports courts at Calusa [Park] as items that are not in compliance with the Master Plan.”

Therefore, she states, “In accordance with the Master Plan, [the County] is going to begin the process of removal of the baseball fields, fencing and ball field lighting. Also in accordance with the Master Plan, the four sports courts at Calusa that are currently surfaced and striped for tennis only will be reconfigured for multi-sports activities including pickleball, basketball and tennis.”

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