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The State Journal- Register (Springfield, IL)


When Chamberlain Park opened for baseball play in Springfield's east side in the summer of 1977, it instantly became an ideal alternative to Lanphier Park/Robin Roberts Stadium as a venue for local high school, college and summer youth games.

Four decades later, a drive near East Capitol Avenue at McCreery Street reveals a ballpark that appears — from a distance — still ready to host a game.

Longtime Springfield High School coach Jim Steinwart gave Chamberlain a thumbs-up when it came to field quality.

"I always liked Chamberlain better than Lanphier Park," Steinwart said. "It's a better surface. It's flat, and you don't have that hump in the back of the infield.

"The sight lines from the dugouts are better, too."

But the lights atop the eight towers standing sentry around Chamberlain haven't cast their glow on summer nights in recent years. The gates are locked. There's no baseball — at any level — at the east-side field this spring and summer.

While they've played ball at Robin Roberts for roughly 90 years, its counterpart ballpark to the south is in limbo after just four decades.

"It's sad," Steinwart said.

The ballpark, with a bleacher-seating capacity of 2,000 to 2,500, was built mostly through volunteer efforts on the site previously occupied by the Springfield Boiler Co. Originally owned by the City of Springfield, it was taken over by the Springfield Park District in 2002.

But a combination of factors including the development of more local playing facilities, changes in summer youth baseball, the loss of a local college baseball program and maintenance costs for the park district have diverted baseball away from Chamberlain.

• Unlike 40 years ago, two of city's four large high schools — Southeast and Sacred Heart-Griffin — now play home games at their own facilities. The other two, Lanphier and Springfield High, share Robin Roberts Stadium.

Even Lutheran, which co-ops with Calvary Academy, has its own campus field.

• Springfield College in Illinois, later Benedictine University, used to play home games at Robin Roberts. Robert Morris University, in turn, played at Chamberlain.

But after Benedictine discontinued its athletic program a few years ago, RMU — after still playing a few home games at Chamberlain last year — now plays its home games at Robin Roberts.

• Chamberlain used to host numerous games for the Mickey Mantle and Connie Mack summer leagues for high school-age players. But according to longtime ballpark scorekeeper and public address announcer Bob Wells, the growing popularity of summer travel teams lessened the summer demand for Chamberlain.

Sean Dickerson, athletics manager for the Springfield Park District, said Springfield Southwest Baseball now runs the Mantle and Mack leagues, which play their games at Eisenhower Park (adjacent to Southeast) and Robin Roberts.

In addition to the turf field at SHG and the development of Eisenhower Park at Southeast, Lincoln Land Community College offers the "back field" next to Claude Kracik Field. And the field at the University of Illinois Springfield offers another local venue.

Given all of those factors, Springfield Park District Executive Director Derek Harms said the demand to use — and maintain — Chamberlain just isn't there right now. So the park district has consolidated games and maintenance at Robin Roberts.

Harms said the average annual operational expenses at Chamberlain a few years ago was approximately $75,000 to $80,000.

Dickerson said the park district still conducts some maintenance at Chamberlain because, "We don't want it to fall into disrepair. If someone would want to lease it or something, we still want it to look nice."

Wells said one of the few issues at Chamberlain he's aware of is the scoreboard, which is in need of a new remote to make it operational again.

Leasing Chamberlain to a baseball team or organization is a more likely option than selling it, Harms said.

"Under the Park Code, if a park district wanted to sell a property over three acres in size, it would require a referendum," Harms said. "We would have to declare it unneeded property. But that's not something we're currently pursuing right now.

"It's a tough thing with something like this. I understand a ballpark's connection to a community. There are life memories people have gained at that facility. But the challenging part is, we have to be as frugal as possible because we're stewards of tax dollars.

"We'd be happy to have discussions with any community members or agencies (about using Chamberlain). But right now the requests aren't there. I just don't know what the future is."

Contact Dave Kane: 788-1544,,

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May 6, 2018


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