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Whitefish Bay's Counsell Field is a cooperative effort come true

Dedication set for Friday

May 21, 2014

So, when Milwaukee Brewers phenom "Hank the Dog" comes to visit shiny new Counsell Baseball Field in Whitefish Bay on its dedication day on Friday, May 23, what might be the reaction if he chooses to honor it in his own "special way"?

"I guess we'd all have to laugh," said Bay baseball coach Jay Wojcinski with a chuckle. "What else could we do?"

They could and would laugh loudly because nothing could mar this brilliant occasion that saw the school district, village and private sources come together on a $450,000 project to create a baseball showcase in the northern suburbs.

"We're like a little kid with a new toy," said Wojcinski, whose team got to practice on the new layout May 16 and 17 and will again this week. "We just want to play with it as much as we can. ...Everyone pitched in and helped on this. It's just amazing how quickly this all happened.

"Just a big 'thank you' to everyone in the village, the school district and to everyone who provided funds. Everyone was just on the same page."

Dedication day

And as a result, the dedication ceremony for the new Counsell Field at Cahill Park will occur at approximately 5:10 p.m. on Friday. "Hank" will kick off the festivities with a visit from around 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Following "Hank" and the ceremonies, Bay will actually kick off its season with a 5:30 p.m. contest against nonconference opponent Greenfield.

The only downpoint to the event is that former Milwaukee Brewer and Whitefish Bay Athletic Hall of Famer Craig Counsell, for whom the field is named, won't be available because of obligations with his current job with the Brewers.

The project, years in the making, was an outgrowth of the horrendous 2010 floods that engulfed most of the metro Milwaukee area, overwhelmed the Bay sewer system and resulted in a still ongoing discussion on how best to fix the village's aging infrastructure.

Drainage features

But in the interim, everyone came to an agreement on fixing the ballpark. In the plan, there is a bit of infrastructure work to help the neighborhood in case ghastly rains visit the area again. If one looks closely, it can be seen that the field pitches ever so slightly towards the outfield fence, outside of which is a stormwater retention pond.

Last summer, Carl Fuda, who is a village trustee and also head of the organization Friends of Bay Baseball, which helped fund the project, said the plan calls for that pond "to be empty 99.9 percent of the time," but it will be there in case of emergency.

Partly to address that situation, the plan lowered the level of the entire field by about two feet, with slightly sunken dugouts and a new FieldTurf turf infield with a new real grass outfield. It is, in some ways, similar to Concordia's Kapco Park in Mequon, where the WIAA summer state baseball tournament is held.

Fuda said there are a few minor items still to be taken care of on the field, but noted that they are "nothing of magnitude."

"Mostly making sure the grass is the right height," he said. "Right now, it's exceeded all our expectations."

Model financing

The combined financing effort, with a good chunk of the money coming from private resources headed up by Friends of Bay Baseball, is a precedent-setter in how a cooperative project can come together for the greater good of a community.

Wojcinski and the entire baseball program, from the youth teams on up, is grateful.

"Who knows what would have happened if the school district didn't commit or if the village didn't come through or any of the private groups?" he said. "It probably wouldn't have happened."

Wojcinski said there was also some repair work done on the Little League facilities for which he is also grateful.

A big improvement

n short, it's a long, long ways from last season, when the Blue Dukes were essentially homeless and had to play their home games at Shorewood's Aaron Field while Counsell Field was under construction.

But Wojcinski was patient.

"In the fall (after practice for the football team, for which he is an assistant coach), I'd just drive by the field and giggle, just thinking about it," he said

Once dedicated, Wojcinski is going to share the field with friends. He's already gently teased old friend Germantown coach Jeff Wolf about how Bay doesn't have to worry about rainouts or postponed practices.

So Wolf and Germantown, along with second-ranked in D2 state spring polls Burlington and Jefferson will take part in a round-robin tourney at Counsell on Saturday.

The Jefferson and Burlington coaches are both old friends of Wojcinski's from his playing days at UW-Whitewater, and all may head out together to see their alma mater in the NCAA Division 3 World Series later that weekend.

"It's state of the art," said Fuda. "Almost exactly what we wanted."

"There was a lot of effort put into this," said Wojcinski, "and we're going to have a lot of fun with it."

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