Riddle Field gets refresh as Laguna Beach Little League celebrates 70th anniversary

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Laguna Beach Little League parent volunteer Alex McMann and board member Craig Dawson at Riddle Field, which was under construction on Dec. 7. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the anniversary Laguna Beach Little League is celebrating in 2022. The Independent regrets the error.

Riddle Field is poised for a major overhaul that will see $200,000 invested in the historic ballpark over the next two years—a feat made possible by a public-private partnership spearheaded by Laguna Beach Little League.

Since its last major refresh 10 years ago, the ballpark’s condition has deteriorated with poor irrigation, splinter-filled bleachers, torn nets—among other eyesores. The Offield Family Foundation has donated $50,000 to fund the first phase of improvements that started at Riddle Field—in return, Laguna Beach has matched the donation with $50,000 from its capital improvement budget.

The Foundation has pledged to contribute another $50,000 toward a second phase in 2022, contingent on the city agreeing to also match this amount.

The donations coincidentally align with the 60th anniversary of Riddle Field opening and the 70th anniversary of the Laguna Beach Little League’s founding by Jack Norworth, who co-wrote the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.“

“We look at this as an investment in the youth sports of the community for our neighbors’ kids and our kids,” Chase Offield said. “We’re lucky to be in a position to give back. It’s a priority for us.”

Chase Offield is the son of Paxson Offield, great-grandson of William Wrigley Jr., founder of the Wrigley Co., and a former CEO of the Santa Catalina Island Co.

McMann routinely hoses down the field to keep dust down, rakes up rocks, and draws chalk lines. Although the Public Works Department contracts a landscaping service to mow the field—extra care needed to bring the field into a safe, playable condition has landed on McMann

“It kind of became a labor of love,” McMann said. “It was getting to the point where the field needed some more serious maintenance.”

McMann said he lobbied the Parks and Recreation Committee for years to get funding earmarked for Riddle Field but was repeatedly told that the panel’s attention was already consumed with plans for new pickleball courts.

McMann was asked what he would need to bring Riddle Field into an ideal condition. The wish list included elements of Phase one such as sod replacement, a reconfigured pitchers mound, new base anchors, warning track repairs, and irrigation modification.

Designs for Phase two include a refreshed playground, a water bottle refilling station, and a third base staging area.

Laguna Little League president Doug Arrasin said these improvements will make playing baseball in Laguna Beach more attractive to families who are also lured by many other athletic programs. Riddle is a destination for visiting teams, partly because of its history as one of the oldest little league fields west of the Mississippi River.

“Having an exciting field is going to go a long way to maintain our sport,” Arrasin said. “Baseball, I think, goes a long way in teaching kids life lessons and about adversity.”

The Little League apparently has two influential allies in Mayor Bob Whalen, a former little league coach, and Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf, who helped secure the city’s match after being contacted by little league leaders.

As someone who used to coach youth basketball at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, Kempf acknowledged that adult programs have historically enjoyed a lot of city officials’ attention.

“We dont do a lot for kids in this town,” Kempf said. “I really love that were doing this project for the kids and the families.”

Rehabilitation of Riddle Field will be done by Sports Field Services, a landscaping firm that’s worked at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles Chargers practice facility in Costa Mesa, UCLA Drake Stadium, Chapman University’s Wilson Field, and Orange Coast College. After finishing the job in Laguna Beach, the firm is off to SoFi Stadium ahead of Super Bowl LVI.

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, Little Leaguers enjoyed a homecoming at the field earlier this year. A Little League parent said she is hopeful that Riddle Field will continue to serve as a community hub where kids can enjoy themselves either in organized teams or alone throwing a ball against the backstop.

“That’s just what childhood is and we’ve gotten away from that,” the parent said.

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