Hundreds of young athletes in Kings Park prematurely hung up their baseball and softball uniforms last year after standing water on the fields forced the cancellation of games at area parks.
Smithtown Town officials say that trend has been curtailed now that eight heavily used fields at Kings Park Memorial and Flynn Memorial parks have been improved.
"Those were the two parks that really needed the most work to be done," said parks director Sandra Miranda, adding that it had been about a decade since the town reconstructed those fields. "We completely tore up all of the clay, moved it out of the ballfields, realigned and leveled out all the fields, which included putting down topsoil, reseeding parts of the outfield."
Town board members voted 5-0 in July 2014 to allocate $50,000 for ballfield improvements, after Councilman Edward Wehrheim said youth groups told him they were hazardous.
Miranda said the parks department started work this past spring, completing Flynn Memorial's fields in June. Those at Kings Park Memorial are scheduled to be finished by the end of the summer, after workers install team benches and fencing behind home plate. She said finding available time to renovate was challenging, because the fields are often in use and days lost to inclement weather.
Joseph Altobelli, a baseball commissioner for the nonprofit Kings Park Youth Athletic Association, which serves children ages 4 to 18, said about 500 youths are involved in baseball and softball. Fields are used about six days a week during the season, he said.
"The fields just needed to be overhauled after many years of use," Altobelli said. "There were a lot of issues with puddles," he said, adding that some fields developed a lip -- where clay in the infield forms a ramp that holds water, making running unsafe.
Before this year, Altobelli said about 30 percent of games were canceled because of standing water. The result caused a ripple effect: Parents were not happy to find out the news after rushing home from work, players were frustrated and enrollment declined.
The town's updates have been "phenomenal," he said, thanking officials for responding to the group's concerns. "We haven't missed a single day of play since our season started in April, due to the work and the improvements that they've made to the fields."
The athletes gain friendships, a sense of competition and physical fitness from their participation, Altobelli said. "The more time the kids can keep playing sports, the less time there is for kids to do destructive things."
Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said his town was obligated to ensure fields are playable.
"Recreation in Smithtown is a very, very big factor to our quality of life," he said. "I think if you don't have well-kept and adequate playing fields, then you are diminished as a town."