By Judy Wakefield
---- — With Andover Little League opening day coinciding with April school vacation week this year, league officials were facing the prospect of less-than-packed playing fields for the first games of the season.
So they decided to get creative. They’ve taken the beloved sandlot approach to baseball for opening day 2014, set for this Saturday, April 26.
If you show up, you’re on the roster. The brand new Deyermond Park fields on Blanchard Street await.
“With so many kids away on vacation with their families and so many absent players, we thought this would be a good way to handle it,” Andover Little League President Scott Nichols said.
Three players from each of the league’s 74 teams were asked to play in the inaugural games on the new ballfields. They will be joined by any other players eager and ready.
“It’s like sandlot baseball. You just have to show up to play,” Nichols said.
The sandlot games will follow the park’s public dedication ceremony at 2 p.m. in memory of Warren “Buster” Deyermond. The Andover resident, who was very active in youth sports, died while serving in Vietnam on July 14, 1969.
His death — a month shy of his 21st birthday — came just days before he was scheduled to complete his tour of duty and return home. He became Andover’s last military casualty, according to Mike Burke, director of Andover Veterans’ Services.
Town officials and veterans groups will join with Andover Little League players, families and officials as well as others from the community to salute Deyermond’s memory during the dedication. Members of the Deyermond family will also be on hand for the ceremony.
Then, ballplayers will take their places to officially christen the new park’s three baseball fields.
Talk of new fields started years ago as Town Meeting in 2007 approved the $2.8 million purchase of 13 acres on Blanchard Street to house three Little League regulation baseball diamonds and a large soccer field. An additional lot was purchased in 2011.
The price tag for the project was placed at $835,000, which includes a 2009 Town Meeting appropriation of $425,000 for field design and development supplemented by $350,000 from Little League and $60,000 from the Andover Soccer Association. The construction was overseen by Huntress Associates of Andover.
Andover Little League is now raising money to pay for a lighting system to support night games, Nichols said. The league has revamped its fundraising efforts, calling it “Raise the Lights,” in hopes of securing the $450,000 needed for the project.
The lights are part of the $650,000 Phase II of the initiative, which will also include scoreboards, a concession stand, dugouts, batting cages, equipment shed, grandstand seating and other items.
Before the dedication and first pitch is thrown out, Andover Little Leaguers will take part in their annual opening day ceremony and parade as well as Pitch, Hit and Run Contest.
The parade starts at 10 a.m. from the Doherty Middle School parking lot on Bartlet Street and marches into the town center. Then it’s back to the Doherty fields for the contest.
Opening Day Honors
The new Deyermond Park on Blanchard Street will be dedicated at 2 p.m. on Saturday in memory of Warren C. “Buster” Deyermond of Andover, who was killed while serving in Vietnam in July 1969.
Andover Little League President Scott Nichols will welcome guests. Local author and Andover Townsman columnist Bill Dalton will be the guest speaker. Michael Burke, director of Andover Veterans’ Services, will lead the unveiling of a new monument in Deyermond’s honor.
The ceremony will include an honor detail and other observances. The Patriotic Holiday Committee will also participate. The public is invited.
To reach the new Deyermond Park, travel west on Route 133 (Lowell Street), then turn left onto Bellevue Road (just past Raytheon entrance). Turn left onto Osgood Street, then stay straight onto Blanchard Street until the park.