Batting cages belong at Oakton


The Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board’s recent selection of Oakton over Hinkley as the location of the baseball/softball batting cages brought predictable howls of chagrin and derision from one of the Park District’s own affiliates, the Park Ridge Baseball & Softball association, as well as from the Park Ridge Juniors who donated $45,000 toward the estimated $180,000 cost of those cages.

Their argument that Hinkley is “the baseball park” was rejected by a 4 to 3 vote of Commissioners Grant, Maloney, Streff and Trizna over Commissioners Angelini, Schaeffer and Wilkening. And that was the correct decision.

While Hinkley is the Park District’s principal baseball facility, it also houses the District’s largest (6 courts) and lighted tennis complex; a swimming pool; a skate park; the District’s principal football field; and an outdoor basketball court. With limited convenient parking, it is the proverbial five pound bag into which the Park District has already crammed ten pounds of facilities and activities.

Sure, there will be large numbers of baseball players ready, willing and able to pour their dollar coins into the eight cages both before and after their or their siblings’ scheduled games. And sure, coaches can conveniently rent a cage or two for some team B.P.

But those cages are not being built just for PRBS. The Park District intends to make them part of a rejuvenated Oakton recreation “campus” that will also include an improved driving range and miniature golf. And the District’s revenue projections for the cages at Oakton match those for Hinkley.

The synergies of such an arrangement can be observed just by driving east on Oakton to the Skokie Park District’s new driving range/mini-golf/batting cage complex, where whole families can find something for everybody by one-stop shopping. And the new Oakton should have plenty of convenient parking to make a visit less of a logistical challenge.

What should have been the deciding factor, however, was raised almost as an afterthought by Commissioner Trizna in response to communication from the State of Illinois confirming that building the batting cages in place of Hinkley’s current lighted basketball court would require the construction of a replacement lighted basketball court elsewhere in the District due to restrictions related to an OSLAD grant from the State of Illinois.

The cost of replacing the basketball court: $72,000, or $27,000 more than the Juniors’ donation. Not only would that have been a waste of money, but it would have more than negated the value of the Juniors’ generosity and required the expenditure of more taxpayer dollars. Simply put, it would have caused more harm than good.

Fortunately, the Park Board kept its eye on the ball.