From youth baseball and softball players huddled in humble dugouts to major leaguers sitting in huge stadiums, there seems to be one constant – chewing up sunflower seeds and spitting the shells on the ground.
Walk through a dugout during a game and, along with the shouts of the players and coaches, you’re sure to hear the crunch of shells underfoot.
But Brookfield Little Leaguers will have to leave their sunflower seeds at home this year after the village’s Little League board of directors voted to ban them from the dugouts.
The problem, the sunflower seeds are so popular that the seeds plug the dugout drains, causing them to flood.
Sunflower seed shells are a particular problem at Overholt Field in Kiwanis Park, where boys and girls Majors (11 and 12 year olds) teams play, because those dugouts are below grade.
“The seeds aren’t getting picked up and get swept into the drains, and they’re flooding when it rains,” said Brookfield Little League President Dennis Gilhooley. “After it rains, you have to stick your arms down the drain, all the way to the shoulder to get the sunflower seeds out.”
Gilhooley says he’s taken some heat, particularly from team managers and coaches, about the decision to remove sunflower seeds from the concessions stands at Kiwanis and Ehlert parks.
“They were one of our most popular items,” Gilhooley said. “So, in a sense, the decision is hurting us.”
But Gilhooley said the league has increased the money it commits to field maintenance in the past two years, and having unusable, flooded dugouts alongside manicured fields doesn’t make sense.
The league hires Molitor Athletic Fields to help keep fields pristine and to take some of the pressure off of volunteer parents to do the work. The company replaced the infield dirt with a new mixture that can better handle moisture, Gilhooley said, and got rid of all the infield lips at the edge of the outfield grass, which served as ramps for groundballs and caused plenty of bad hops.
“The fields are in such great shape and when the dugouts are flooded the players have to sit outside,” Gilhooley said.
Opening ceremonies April 29
Games started last weekend, but the Little League’s official opening ceremonies will be held at the band shell at Kiwanis Park from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 29.
In addition to players receiving goodie bags with items from sponsors, the league will also be dedicating the 2017 season to a pair of longtime Little League volunteers, Kevin Lynch and JoAnn D’Altorio, who died in 2016.
Lynch, 47, was a Brookfield Little League board member for many years and a longtime coach and manager. He died of melanoma in November 2016. Brookfield Little League on April 29 will be providing players with bottles of sunscreen, which are being donated by a company in Lynch’s memory.
D’Altorio, 52, was a longtime Little League board member and a past president of the organization who died in December. The league is passing out stickers with JoAnn’s name on them for players to stick on their batting helmets this year to honor her memory.