Inside the struggle to save the Dillon’s Summit Baseball Academy
Special to the Daily
Playing competitive baseball in Summit County is, in many ways, like trying to ride a bike with a leaky tire.
Calling it an uphill battle is putting it modestly: piles of snow cover the ground until well after spring baseball season has started, temperatures rarely climb above 60 degrees until June and almost all games are played more than an hour away. And, just like when you pump air into a damaged tire, the momentum gained is only temporary, as these natural obstacles often delay Summit teams from reaching their peak until the spring (and even summer) seasons are almost over.
About 2.5 years ago, a patch for the leak was designed with the Summit Baseball Academy, a roughly 10,000-square-foot indoor training facility located in downtown Dillon at the La Riva Del Lago Shoppes. With four batting cages, two pitching tunnels and space for batting and pitching drills, it doesn’t take a baseball nut to realize that the SBA was a game-changer for baseball in the High Country, including the Summit Youth Baseball Association.
“The facility helps a lot,” said youth coach Shevy Rashidi, who recently led the Summit Extreme 13U team to a spring tournament win in Castle Rock with just a few days on real, live grass and dirt. “In the past, we used to rent storage units … and set up netting and break windows and schedule kids every five minutes to come in because you could only deal with one kid. The amount of time we have in the facility is four-to-five times the amount of time we could have in the small areas we’ve tried to use as a facility in the past.”
Fixing the leak …
Getting the SBA running in the first place was no bike in the park. Local baseball associations and businesses rallied to raise a combined $135,000 for the space and equipment, and volunteers spent countless hours clearing rubble and setting up equipment.
“We had to build all these posts, close everything, drywall,” Summit baseball coach Barry Cibula said.
Thanks to the facility, Summit baseball teams have been able to start running legitimate practices as early as the middle of January. Sure, it’s still not equivalent to playing outdoors, but the space has already shown an impact on Summit teams. The Summit Extreme 12U travel team won the state tournament last summer — the same team that recently won the 13U tournament in Castle Rock — and a number of others have posted strong seasons, something of a rarity for local ball before the SBA.
… For now
Just when it seemed that Summit baseball had finally fixed the flat on its hardscrabble road of adversity, yet another piece of glass pierced their tire — only now in the form of a human-made obstacle.
From the fall of 2013 to June 2015, rent at SBA increased by over 600 percent, skyrocketing from $500 to $3,250 a month. When discussing a new lease renewal for this June, the SYBA made a bold request that rent be cut to $1500. The building’s new property management company, Evergreen Commercial Group, did not relent. Instead, the company agreed to keep rent static for the year, rather than raise it by around $500 as expected.
Unfortunately for the SYBA board, this concession was not enough. The organization decided it was still financially unviable for players to continue using the facility, even with rent at the same rate, as if an occult hand driven by cruel Old Man Winter had once again cursed baseball in Summit County.
“They already had the lowest rate in the building,” Bill Downes of Evergreen Commercial said. “Their rate is so low … that it barely covers operating expenses … . We’d love to see them stay. We don’t want them to move; it’s just economic.”
$21,000 in lost rent
A perfect storm of economics, nonprofit planning and Old Man Winter has put the SBA at risk.
“To be responsible, we just can’t afford it,” SYBA President Todd Taylor said. “We probably should have been a little more honest with ourselves about the long-term strategy.”
To continue operating the facility at $1,500 per month — the maximum price it can afford — SYBA would pay $1,750 less than the $3,250 Evergreen requested, which adds up to a total of about $21,000 in lost rent per year. It’s not the only expense: In addition to rent, Taylor says the association still has to pay for cleaning and utilities in the space, not to mention that only a portion of SYBA participants — around 120 Extreme travel team and high school players — even use the SBA.
“We want to keep having the kids play baseball, and we don’t want the facility to be something that puts us in a financial ruin,” he explained.
A large issue with running the facility is that it is primarily single-purpose. Only two narrow, flat spaces exist inside, with columns scattered throughout. The facility’s design makes it nearly impossible for other sports to use it, leaving the nonprofit SYBA in charge of footing the bill for the entire facility.
Downes admits that no business is lined up to occupy the space. If time passes and none was found, then SYBA could potentially be invited back, but he also stresses that this is an unlikely scenario.
Fight to save SBA
In May, with less than a month before the lease expires, a long-term solution or donor is SYBA’s primary goal. Taylor believes anything less would be just a temporary solution.
“If we could find a donor who would be willing to donate a sizable chunk of money, I’d rather put it towards a permanent solution, rather than a stopgap,” he said.
Some parents and coaches, however, are not as willing to let the facility go and believe it is very attainable to make up the shortfall each year. A few I interviewed say that a significant amount of money can be raised through camps, fundraisers and possible grants from the Summit Foundation, although the sources also say Taylor isn’t pursuing any of these options. Another resource is the food stand at the Dillon Amphitheater, which has raised over $10,000 in past summers for Summit Extreme travel teams.
“We have (funded SBA) in the past,” said Greg Hess, local American Legion baseball president. “It’s been a thin stretch, but we’ve certainly been able to do it every year. It’s going to cost the same as it has last year … . (Taylor) is showing some extra costs to kind of build his case.”
Taylor’s case relies on a long-term solution. One possibility is an umbrella organization that supports and runs all Summit County sports and activities, similar to the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District for sports in the Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum areas. These organizations offer better funding and facilities, as opposed to the current arrangement in Summit, where most sports clubs operate as independent entities with independent budgets.
“There’s no cohesion — we’re all fighting for the same donors to ask for money,” he said. “Ideally, we would borrow the model from what Eagle County and the Roaring Fork District do. They actually have a rec district that handles all the nonprofit groups. They have a field house, they have a turf field … it’s a fabulous model.”
Until a local version of WECMRD is organized or another solution develops, the loss of the SBA remains a strikeout for baseball in Summit County. Dozens of talented players have developed in that build on cold, snowy afternoons, and, at least for now, future players won’t get the same opportunity.
“I’ve gotten a lot better because of it and so have my teams,” said Pavel Bernlohr, a player with the 13U travel team. “Just getting to play on (artificial) grass helps a lot.”
The end is almost already in sight: If SYBA and Evergreen Commercial don’t come to a solution by May 31, SBA will officially close its doors.
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