For years, children and adults on the Eastside used the baseball and softball fields at the Jewish Community Center in Bexley.
Over time, the fields deteriorated and were used less and less.
Now, thanks to the generosity of players who used to play on the fields, they have been renovated and kids are once again running the bases on the diamonds.
The group was headed up by former Columbus resident Allen Byer, part owner of the San Francisco Giants and owner of clothing manufacturer Byer California, and included some of his teammates from a baseball league that played on the fields decades ago. The group donated $75,000 to fix up the fields and start an endowment for their future maintenance.
Al Kauffman, 81, of Eastmoor, played in what was called the Sunday Morning Baseball League with Byer. He said there were about 8 or 10 teams that played every Sunday morning.
That was a big social event for the east side, he said. We probably got 300 people out there watching some of the games.
According to Tim Kauffman, assistant executive director of the JCC, the idea for the donation got started around the time Byer came back to Columbus for his induction into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame last fall.
Byer had been a talented athlete in high school and in amateur baseball leagues, including the Sunday Morning League. Kauffman said Byer wanted to give back to the JCC and commemorate in some way his induction into the hall of fame.
So he asked me, ‘what do you need?’ Kauffman said. Little League baseball had died at the JCC, and we were no longer using our fields for that sort of thing. They hadn’t been fixed up for years. I really felt like if we had a little bit of a facility, I could bring youth baseball back, and I mentioned that to him.
Kauffman said the renovations were done last fall, and they were able to put about $50,000 into an endowment for the future upkeep of the fields.
This year, Kauffman said, youth baseball was offered again for the first time in about 20 years, in partnership with the Bexley Recreation Department.
We certainly want to continue to offer youth baseball, Kauffman said. That’s the really exciting thing for me is that we’ve got kids that are JCC members playing baseball again on our fields. I think next year we’re even going to offer tee ball.
The fields are also used for baseball clinics and softball, and Kauffman said they are available for the community to rent as well.
We want them used, he said. We’d like to see, seven nights a week, something going on on our fields.