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Eureka kids getting level playing fields

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EUREKA, Juab County — It almost sounds like a setup to a really bad Johnny Carson joke:

The Eureka baseball fields are so bad ...

But the punch line is no laughing matter.

"The kids, when they were in the outfield, would have to run uphill to get the ball," Eureka resident Nancy Underwood said.

"They were horrible," Town Councilman David Waite agreed.

So horrible, in fact, Waite and Underwood blamed the town's declining ranks of youth leaguers squarely on the grassless ball diamonds' state of disrepair. At one time, the town boasted a force of 70 pint-size ballplayers. Last year, that number had shrunk to around 30.

"A lot of them didn't want to participate because the fields are so bad," Waite said.

To add insult to injury, baseball squads in nearby towns Genola and Santaquin hesitated to make the trip up the mountain to play ball on a hillside. "We've had a couple of leagues completely refuse to come play here," Underwood said.

For a long time, a group of moms

talked to town officials about upgrading the fields, but they just didn't have the budget to do it.

In June, the town baseball committee applied for a grant from the Community Impact Board, and it received $192,000 in October. It was enough money to lay sod, set up fences, install lighting, plant trees and build a snack shack, but it wasn't enough to solve the problem that made Eureka's ball diamonds the butt of Johnny Carson-esque gags — that 16-foot grade from the infields all the way down to home plate.

Then Christmas came to Eureka early.

Baseball committee member Greg Evans volunteered to oversee renovations at the baseball fields. Through his work at Wheeler Machinery, Evans had some contacts at Springville-based W.W. Clyde & Co., and he knew it was planning to do grading and leveling training at its gravel pits near Point of the Mountain.

So why not have the crews build something instead of just go play around in the sand? Evans asked. He bounced the idea off Lance Greer, survey machine guidance manager at W.W. Clyde, and Greer said he liked it.

"It's a good opportunity for us," he said Thursday morning over the roar of backhoes leveling the ball diamonds. "It's a nice opportunity for the kids of Eureka."

W.W. Clyde and its sister company Geneva Rock are donating time, labor, equipment and the cost to mobilize its backhoes to complete its employee training on the fields. Kay Lin Hermansen, director corporate communication for W.W. Clyde, said the arrangement works out well because the town badly needed its ball diamonds graded, and W.W. Clyde and Geneva Rock needed to train their employees on new GPS modeling systems.

The grading will be finished by the end of the week, and the town hopes to have the bulk of its renovations done by spring. Waite said he thinks the improved facilities will be an economic boon for the town and the children.

"Baseball is a big deal up here," he said. "It's all the kids have."

Underwood said she felt like her Christmas present was being unwrapped early as she watched backhoes smooth out the fields.

"I never really thought it would happen," she said. "It's just been a miracle."

E-MAIL: jdana@desnews.com