Growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and early 1960s, Jimmy Settles was grateful for open and well-kept recreation centers and parks in his community.
He was also thankful for the many organized sporting opportunities afforded to him and other neighborhood youth.
These days, Settles, now vice president of UAW-Ford, doesn’t see the same types of facilities, parks and sports opportunities available to youngsters in the city. Due to economic constraints, far too many Detroit Recreation Department (DRD) centers and parks have gone through periods where programs and activities couldn’t be offered at the pace needed to meet growing recreational demands of city youth.
Therefore, it was not a difficult decision for Settles to make when Doug Kempton, founding director and CEO of Detroit-based Eagles Sports Club, met with him two years ago to ask UAW-Ford to build a first-class baseball field that would serve inner-city youth on Detroit’s far east side.
Settles just couldn’t say no.
“I always had someplace to go when I was a kid,” he said. “It could have been a church, school, community center or city recreation department sponsored program. They were always available. However, it’s not that way anymore. Therefore, it’s incumbent on organizations that have the power and money to do something to reach out to help our youth.”
Under Settles’ relentless leadership, UAW-Ford donated $1.8 million to building the UAW-Ford Championship Baseball Field. UAW-Ford recently celebrated opening day of the newly remodeled Balduck Park in a ceremony including community leaders, current and former members of the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions, representatives of Eagle Sports and residents of East English Village.
The completed fenced in baseball field, located at East Warren Avenue at Canyon Street, features new restrooms, bleachers, PA system, lights, irrigation and drainage system, state-of-the-art scoreboard, and batting and pitching cages.
Kempton reports that Michigan-based Giffels Webster was hired to provide planning, surveying, landscaping and civil engineering services to the project. In addition, Michigan-headquartered L.S. Brinker Group came in as project contractor. The architectural aspect of the baseball facility was provided by Michigan-based Stephen Auger & Associates Architects, Inc.
While Balduck Park is owned by the Detroit Recreation Department, Eagle Sports Club has raised money in the past to make modifications and improvements to the entire park which has several other baseball fields. Therefore, ESC has a memo of understanding from DRC that allows the sports organization to have exclusive permitting for all its programming for a long period of time.
Founded in July, 1999, ESC is a non-profit organization that has offered sporting activities and after-school literacy programs to thousands of youth. In 2014 alone, ESC is expected to serve more than 2,000 youngsters. In addition to baseball, ESC offers other outdoor sporting activities such as soccer and flag football. It also provides indoor sports for its youth.
“Now that the new field is completed, it’s going to be awesome, and we will have enough activities to use it from spring to fall,” said Kempton, who is also executive pastor at nearby Grace Community Church.
“We have 40-plus baseball teams that will use the field. We are the second largest baseball league in the city of Detroit, and probably the largest league that plays at one city-owned park. So this field changes the whole landscape of what we are trying to do with organized sports.”
For Settles, working to make this field of dreams a reality for city youth was déjà vu, as he was part of a coalition three decades ago that wanted to do a similar project at Northwestern Field on the city’s west side. Unfortunately, the project didn’t get enough traction and never got off the ground.
However, thanks to Settles and UAW-Ford, the Balduck Park project is ready to soar.
“It’s going to be a great place for kids to play baseball,” he said. “It’s a great accomplishments for the community, the Detroit Recreation Department, and for UAW-Ford. I am personally happy, because I still live and work in Detroit. So I’m glad to have had a role in making this baseball field a reality and giving city kids a first-class park to play in, just like I had when I was growing up.”