WE LOVE OUR MAPLE AVENUE BALLFIELD – A week ago cloth hearts, a rose, R.I.P. lettering and mementos and icons started appearing on the fence bordering the Hedlin’s Ballfield. Additional tokens have been added this week. Last games were played Saturday. A subdivision of 10 homes will be built this summer, leaving a 24,000 square foot park.  	                                                                                                                                                                     – Photo by Ken Stern
WE LOVE OUR MAPLE AVENUE BALLFIELD – A week ago cloth hearts, a rose, R.I.P. lettering and mementos and icons started appearing on the fence bordering the Hedlin’s Ballfield. Additional tokens have been added this week. Last games were played Saturday. A subdivision of 10 homes will be built this summer, leaving a 24,000 square foot park. – Photo by Ken Stern

Saturday was bright and sunny, a perfect day for a doubleheader plus extra innings at Hedlin’s Ballfield. 

But for La Conner baseball fans, even that would not have been enough. The last inning has been played at a time-honored site and a local tradition is over. 

Decades of memories fleetingly intersected with the exploits of today’s youth in the two and a half hours that breezed by much too quickly on the final day of action at the historic sports venue on Maple Avenue. 

Well attended morning T-ball and coach-pitch games put a wrap on action at the beloved neighborhood ballyard, which has been sold for a housing subdivision. A small park will remain. Youth baseball and softball shifts next year to the school campus. 

Youth sports spokesperson Reb Broker said he would begin moving equipment and gear from Hedlin’s Ballfield on Sunday. The third base bleachers, constructed as part of a La Conner Eagle Scout project, will go to the high school shop for refurbishment, he said. 

Broker said with some work and purchase of a portable pitching mound for the diamond at La Conner Schools, located just south of Whittaker Field, will meet immediate needs of local youth sports. 

“It has fences along both baselines and dugouts,” he told parents and fans who gathered after Saturday’s games. 

He hinted that an effort might be launched to develop a new youth sports locale within “three to five years.” 

If so, Mayor Ramon Hayes said the Town – which formerly leased Hedlin’s Ballfield for baseball, softball and soccer – would be on board with helping generate seed money for such a project. Short of that, Hayes told the Weekly News last week La Conner Schools Superintendent Rich Stewart is confident the diamond next to Whittaker Field can serve as a permanent solution, if necessary. 

Still, the past was the focus for many. The mood was nostalgic and bittersweet, many lamenting the loss of Hedlin’s Ballfield as a sports hub. The outfield fence along Maple Avenue was adorned with trophies and shoes and other mementoes of days gone by. Someone ran strips of cloth through the chain-link creating two hearts and the letters R.I.P. 

The Hedlin family in 2019 offered to sell the property to the Town at a reduced price, $625,000 – hoping it could remain a ballfield – in order to recover costs of purchasing adjoining farmland to sustain its farm into the future. 

It was a difficult decision. David Hedlin described as “sacrosanct” the ballfield and family property at Snee Oosh Road, which was also sold. 

La Conner officials determined the Town could not afford to buy the ballfield and keep it entirely as a public space. Financial concerns were amplified in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened significant budget impacts. 

Negotiations resulted in a Town commitment to preserve one-fourth of the ballfield as a public park. That was increased another five per cent based on citizen input earlier this year. 

One parent, who asked not to be named, regretted on Saturday that the Town had not done more in terms of seeking grants or other financial support over the past two years to retain the entire two acres for public use. 

“What steps or options were available to have saved it as a ballfield” he asked rhetorically. 

Instead, the Town sold 70 per cent of the property to a housing developer in a move that allowed it to recoup its purchase outlay. 

Catey Ritchie, who will serve as youth baseball treasurer next year, offered a more glass half-filled outlook, reminding parents that the Town was able to preserve 30 per cent of the ballfield – about 24,000 square feet – as a public park and that a survey is being developed seeking input from community members on their vision for that space. 

Still, there was a certain sadness in the air – and on social media. 

“I first played there as a kid in 1977, I believe,” posted Daniel Perez. “I heard this was the last year and it’s being removed. This is sad news. My own son played there in 2006 and I was the coach.” 

“Sad to see it go,” added La Conner firefighter Adam Avery. “My dad, Doug Avery, and Steve Thurmond were my coaches when I played there in the early 90s.” 

“All my kids played there,” Robert Johnston wrote, “and I’ve umpired many games there. Sad.” 

Longtime youth coach Charlie Edwards, who is also on the La Conner High football staff, perhaps put it best. 

“Sad to say,” he said, “but it will no longer be a little league field. I played on this field many years ago – like 35 years – and coached on this field for over 10 years. So many memories.” 

Now it is those memories that will have to uplift Edwards and others as the fences and backstop come down.

Hayes commented to the Weekly News Tuesday, emailing, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the Maple Fields over the weekend, and it’s understandable that some citizens are upset, it’s been a fixture for decades.  There has certainly been a strong emotional attachment to that land.”