by Troy Tennyson
BURLINGTON - Nestled just north of M-60 in the middle of the little burg of Burlington sits an unpolished gem, a gem filled with tremendous potential and a ton of memories.
For years the ball fields in Burlington were home to athletic contests ranging all the way from T-ball up to adult softball.
There isn't a single person who played ball at Burlington's field that doesn't have happy memories of chasing foul balls into the pasture behind the field, mingling with the horses who eyed your intrusion with nothing but boredom and contempt. Or memories of hanging out with your buddies in the coolest dugouts in the area, built into a hill almost like a cave, all while fighting off splinters from the old wooden benches and walls. Or memories of stepping to the plate and eyeing the short fence, knowing that if you just got your pitch you were going to hit one out. Or painful memories of straying too close to the unnecessarily close electrical fence situated along the first base line and getting shocked.
Over the years, that field with so many memories, has fallen into disrepair, partly due to the new cellphone tower sitting where home plate used to be for the little league diamond or just due to it not being used. In short, it has been forgotten.
Well, thanks to an ambitious project started by Union City High School graduate and current Burlington resident Jason Stemaly, and aided by virtually the entire community of Burlington, that unpolished gem is getting a huge facelift.
In a project they are dubbing the Burlington Field of Dreams, Stemaly and his group of hard working individuals have begun bringing the Burlington ball fields back, with plans to make it better than ever.
"With the pandemic and COVID and stuff baseball teams are just itching to get practice time and to play ball, since technically they can't use the school facilities much," said Stemaly. "I sat back and I just took a look at the field I used to play on and just seeing it not being used, I just started to think about how badly I wanted this property, these fields to not only be used, but to become something big. Instead of it just being softball here I started to think about how it could be for everyone, of all ages, girls and boys, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't stop there, we are even thinking about doing soccer and flag football here. With whats going on we all need a way to get the kids out and active, off of their electronics, so why not use this facility for what it was built for."
With a quick presentation to the Burlington Village Board completed and with the 100 percent backing of the council, the Field of Dreams project is officially underway. Work has begun on the back stops and the infields have new dirt, while some of the branches along the back fencing area have been removed. And although the project has officially begun, the full transformation for the Burlington Field of Dreams is far from complete, with a great deal many more improvements on the way. So far though, things are progressing quickly and all the early hard work is already paying off.
"Just a huge thanks to Bob, Leo and Roger Hughes for donating their time in helping with this project, without them it wouldn't be possible," said Stemaly. "Also a big thank you to the village and Bob Mullally for donating their time. There is still a lot of work to go, but we have already put in new infields, we've looked into getting the fences and dugouts redone, and we have started cutting back the trees along the back of the property to start installing the extra fields. It's a big project but there are big plans for this place, it's going to look great."
Mullally, who spends his time officiating for high school and youth sports as well as serving as president of a local youth baseball league, has been hard at work helping Stemaly and the project get on its feet.
"His vision is truly an amazing one," said Mullally. "He is talking about the possibility of having four fields which could be used for other sports. The vision he has is just amazing and I for one can't wait to see what he does with it."
What the revamping of the ball fields in Burlington means for the community is wide reaching and does not just impact the kids playing the games, it impacts the community as a whole.
"We are all for the project, it would bring so much more to the area in terms of people going to the restaurant or the gas station, it would bring people to Burlington," said Burlington mayor Sandy Dowell. "We are behind Jason and this project fully. We at first wanted details of course on what his plans are for this area but once he came to the meeting and shared with us on paper what the plans are, we got behind it fully. I think that Jason's vision would do a lot for Burlington, I think it would bring people in, it would bring a little extra revenue and it help offset a little of our end of things, with the upkeep and everything. But most of all it has the potential of bringing people to our little area, which would just be amazing. It's ambitious and I think it'll take some time, but it's so good to see this field being put to good use."
The end result is still a long way off for Stemaly and the crew working on the Burlington Field of Dreams, but there is a vision, there is a plan, and the ball if officially rolling.
"Teams right now are fighting for places to play and practice, but the worry is what about after Covid, will there still be a demand for this space," said Stemaly. "Well, my vision going forward is to get Burlington its own BUCS team again, like we used to have. I want to see the kids from around here, around the village of Burlington, instead of them going to play for Union City or Homer or Tekonsha, they play right here with Burlington, at Burlington's Field of Dreams. On top of that I am doing this for the high school kids of our area as well, because I'm going to need umpires and I'm hoping kids who play baseball and softball will come here and work, make a little money doing something they love, like I used to do when I was younger. This project will help so many people of so many ages, I'm just so excited to get to work and get things underway."
Although the project is in full swing, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, and on top of that, a lot of fundraising that needs to happen, as Stemaly is looking to fund the project without the help of the village, using just donations from the public and local businesses.
The current timeline will see the Burlington Field of Dreams completed roughly sometime next summer, with the grand kickoff event slated for around the Fourth of July.
"I want to have softball, baseball, soccer, and flag football tournaments, maybe whiffle ball and other things," said Stemaly. "We are going to have a Hog Roast, we are going to have live music and to end it all, a fireworks show. That is my vision for the kickoff, only a year away, so we've got a lot work to do."
The vision is indeed grand, the work vast and the possibilities, endless.
The fields that sit nestled among homes and corn fields in the middle of Burlington are slowly coming back to life. And as Stemaly gazes across the field with a smile on his face and an energy for the project that is contagious, one can only imagine what the Burlington Field of Dreams will look like this time next year.
For information on how you can assist in the project or to donate to the rebuilding of the Burlington Field of Dreams you can contact Jason Stemaly via his Facebook page or via telephone at (269) 317-2387.
Burlington Field of Dreams