On a quiet, cold and breezy night Thursday, Seaside Park Mayor John Peterson smiled as the clock struck 8 p.m. A borough council meeting had ended about 20 minutes earlier, and the countdown had begun for new lighting at the 13th Street baseball field and recreation area to be turned on for the first time as part of a two-night test of the new system. (Video of the test is embedded above; some ad blocking software may impede the player.)
Right on time, the new LED lights enveloped the baseball diamond in vibrancy, enlightening the infield dirt, the deep-green grass and the blue-green colors of the adjacent playground, tennis courts and basketball courts. While the installation of new lights on a baseball field in a small town may not sound like a major improvement, officials in Seaside Park believe just the opposite, and see it as part of a major rejuvenation of the town’s largest recreational area.
Only the mayor, a reporter and, a few minutes later, Borough Administrator (and resident) Karen Kroon saw the display, but all had the same thought, right out of the Hollywood classic Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”
The new lighting is one of many steps being taken to breathe new life into the Moe Levine Park complex which spans the area of 13th and 14th avenues along Barnegat Avenue. At one time, summer baseball leagues were legendary in the borough, but the lack of lighting and deteriorating field conditions have tamped down on the reliability of the field to support regular play.
“We’ve had Major Leaguers play here,” said Peterson, remembering a young Todd Frazier showing up to play a game in a summer league while in college, among other notable baseball players who have visited or lived in town or nearby. Peterson himself coached youth baseball for 18 years.
It took about six weeks for the LED lights to be installed. The borough has experienced a spate of good luck in its efforts to rejuvenate the park thus far – an anonymous donor purchased a $174,000 set of playground equipment for the park, and concerns over the significant cost of replacing electrical conduits and poles were set aside when engineers determined the existing equipment was sound, except for the lights themselves. The previous mercury vapor lights, which had fallen into disrepair, have been replaced with LED conversion kits, which not only provide improved intensity to the lighting on the field, but significantly reduce the amount of light that scatters onto neighboring properties since they are directionally-focused toward the playing surfaces.
At one point, officials also worried that the adjacent tennis court would need to be ripped up in order to replace electrical conduits – another problem that fortunately never came to fruition. An engineering firm hired by the borough conducted core sampling over the summer and made its determination.
With the new lighting in place, the playground completed and the tennis courts in good condition, the borough’s next focus will be on the baseball diamond itself, Peterson said.
At a minimum, the borough will work on improving drainage and replacing the infield dirt, which in recent years has become degraded and prone to ponding during rain storms. Should the funds be available, the borough council will also consider new dugouts, benches and similar amenities that will make the field viable for both leagues and pickup games during future seasons.
Those in town have one more chance to take a look at the light show before winter sets in. The field will be illuminated again on Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.