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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA allocates $15 million for island baseball parks

Francisco Negrón Stadium in Las Piedras

By The Star Staff

Players in the Municipality of Las Piedras’ Children’s and Youth Baseball League will soon be running the bases on a renovated diamond thanks to a $5 million allocation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The $5 million will be used to repair Francisco Negrón Stadium, where fans in Las Piedras gather to support both professional players and the little ones who are making their debut in the sport. Of that sum, around $510,300 is earmarked for mitigation measures to address damage caused by heavy rains or winds.

The stadium in Las Piedras is just one of several baseball parks to which FEMA allocated over $15 million. The facilities where damage caused by Hurricane Maria will be addressed also include Santa Isabel, Villalba and Yabucoa, where the projects are already in the construction phase and will soon benefit their respective communities. The four municipalities have already received over $91 million from the agency for 116 park and recreational facility projects.

“The parks promote sports for our children and serve as a gathering point for many other events that help us to strengthen ties with the communities,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero said. “It is a source of great satisfaction to know that these reconstruction projects will soon translate into renovated parks ready to train our future professionals.”

More than 250 players in the Pedreña Children’s and Youth League use Francisco Negrón Stadium and other parks in the communities of Las Piedras during their regular season. League president, Armando “Andy” Díaz said some former players have returned as leaders to share what they received during their childhood and youth. During his tenure with the organization, Díaz has seen youngsters like Ángel Sánchez -- who is playing for Los Artesanos in Double-A Professional Baseball -- develop in and out of Puerto Rico thanks to the sports education provided in the town.

In Santa Isabel, meanwhile, work has already begun to rebuild the Luis Guillermo Moreno baseball park. Painting and replacement of equipment -- particularly the reconstruction of the bleachers -- is part of the work to be carried out with around $2.5 million from FEMA. That sum also includes about $183,000 to install 13 storm drains and other equipment to protect the facility from future weather events.

In Villalba, Herminio Cintrón Stadium has already been allocated over $4.6 million to repair the 1960s-era facilities. The work at the park includes the replacement of electronic equipment and other infrastructure elements. Asbestos problems will also be remedied and $530,000 will be used for mitigation initiatives to prevent erosion and other damage due to excess rainfall.

Another significant project benefiting from the FEMA funds includes several ballparks in the Guayabotas, Ingenio, Jagüeyes, Limones and Tejas neighborhoods of Yabucoa. Following an allocation of about $3 million, construction work to replace the facilities has already begun.

Rey Marte, the municipal director of sports and recreation in Yabucoa, noted that the southeastern coastal town also has sports such as basketball, soccer and softball, although he stressed that baseball is “practically a religion” there. Marte described the purpose of the Little League program, which is the largest in Puerto Rico with 27 teams, as an opportunity to develop spending time together socializing and promoting health through exercise.

“At the end of the road, if we get some star or some baseball player in the big leagues, that’s great,” he said. “But what we really want is to give children the opportunity to spend time with their peers and to have a sense of discipline through the game, so that they can use it in life, in their studies, in everything that awaits them.”

To date, FEMA has awarded around $30.5 billion for nearly 10,700 Public Assistance projects aimed at rebuilding a Puerto Rico that is more resistant to future weather events.

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