Morgan Park High School baseball head coach Ernest Radcliffe is meticulous with how he maintains his team’s baseball field. He routinely mows, lays sodding, rakes and manicures the infield. Players and other coaches assist him with field maintenance after the games, too. 

The soil on the infield and pitcher’s mound, along with the grass around the diamond, takes a beating from base runners and fielders making plays. The team’s maintenance routine ensures the field is pristine for the next game. 

However, due to weeks of rainy — and sometimes even snowy — weather in what’s become a customary springtime in Chicago, the Morgan Park Mustangs’ baseball field has been unplayable this 2022 season. And it cost the team significant time on the diamond, throwing a nasty curveball in the Mustangs’ plan to defend its 2021 Chicago Public League championship title.

As of May 11, the Mustangs were only able to play 20 full games out of a scheduled 30, due to rain and snow canceling many home games. The team’s record is 9-11. Its last regular season game was May 11 against Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Morgan Park lost its second round city playoff game to Walter Payton College Preparatory High School by a score of 9-6 on Saturday, May 14. But, the Mustangs are scheduled to play Oak Forest in an IHSA Class 3A boys baseball state playoffs game on Thursday, May 26 at Lemont High School at 4:30 p.m/CST.

“I really need a turf field here at Morgan Park High School,” Radcliffe told The TRiiBE on April 4. That day, his varsity team was scheduled to play a home game against William Jones College Preparatory High School, one of Morgan Park’s interconference rivals, but rain from the night before and light showers that morning forced the coaches to cancel the game.

In 2017, Morgan Park received an $87,000 grant from the Cubs Charities’ Diamond Project to rehabilitate the infield of its baseball diamond, including the installation of dugouts, safety nets and backstop fencing. These projects were completed by the start of the 2022 season home opener, Radcliffe said. 

Then in 2019, Cubs Charities approved another grant to Morgan Park High School’s baseball field in the amount of $60,000 for field maintenance equipment, such as a Smithco infield groomer, field drag, landscape rakes, tamper, nail drag, chalker, mound and home plate tarps, windscreens for dugouts, duraplay surfacing and the services of athletic field equipment provider SportsField, along with program equipment such as bases, game/practice balls and an electronic scoreboard, according to Cubs Charities executive director Alicia Gonzalez. 

However, Morgan Park High School has yet to install an electronic scoreboard, which Radcliffe estimates would cost between $10,000 and $15,000. With the 2022 season now over, some parents, who were previously unaware that Morgan Park High School received the 2019 Cubs Charities donation, are wondering why the funds have not been used for their intended purpose yet.

Kim Freeman, mother of Morgan Park senior catcher Kendall Garland, told The TRiiBE on May 10, following a 15-10 home defeat to conference rival Simeon Career Academy High School, that she was unaware of Cubs Charities’ 2019 donation.

“Disheartening” is how Freeman described the lack of field improvements, given the availability of funds. “We still don’t have a scoreboard. We still don’t have any more safety because they were supposed to put something up there to stop the foul balls from going on to the street and damaging cars,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that could have been done with that money that wasn’t done. This field is still horrible. It would’ve been nice to see another turf field on the South Side where we play at, a lot like they did over at Simeon or like they got on the North Side so we can continue to play baseball when we have bad weather but we [can’t play] because it doesn’t drain well.”

Morgan Park High School baseball head coach Ernest Radcliffe is meticulous with how he maintains his team’s baseball field. Photo by Mike Hicks for The TRiiBE ®

Cliff Moore, father of senior pitcher Damarion Redmond, said that he too was unaware of the 2019 Cubs Charities donation. He learned of Cubs Charities donation in 2017 while watching local news on television. 

“If they did get the grants, I hope they decide to use it properly,” Moore said. “Everybody wants turf. Put some bleachers right here. We would have more people here if we had somewhere to sit.” 

Cubs Charities spokesperson Jessica Ortiz confirmed in a May 13 email to The TRiiBE that the $60,000 grant awarded in 2019 did include a line item for a scoreboard. 

“In May 2021, Children First Fund (CFF) notified Cubs Charities that MPHS requested an extension to the term of the grant as the school was still ‘working to identify a vendor for the scoreboard.’ The request was honored/term extended by Cubs Charities,” Ortiz wrote.

The Children First Fund is the CPS’ nonprofit foundation arm that operates as a fiscal agent for schools.

(VIDEO) All the footage is from Morgan Park High School’s home opener game against Holy Trinity on March 16, 2022. Coach Radcliffe can be seen raking the field. Morgan Park families and fans can be seen sitting in collapsible chairs and tents, and standing along the gate to cheer on the team.

The TRiiBE reached out to Morgan Park High School and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) multiple times to get an itemized list of what the money has been spent on so far and how much of the money is left to spend on field improvements. As of press time, we hadn’t received a response.

Although Radcliffe appreciates the funding they’ve received from Cubs Charities, he said the reality is that the team needs a home turf field to avoid rainouts and other weather-related game cancellations. 

“They asked me what I wanted, and I laid out for them exactly what we wanted,” Radcliffe said of his conversation with school administrations.

For the Morgan Park baseball program to function seamlessly every year, Radcliffe estimates the team would need anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 annually. That budget would cover baseballs, team baseball caps, field maintenance equipment, spring training trips to Florida and more. 

“For this program to run up to higher standards, constant fundraising and donations will have to come in,” Radcliffe said. “The alumni have given some money before. We will fundraise through the school and then earmark what we want to do with the fundraising.”

Turfing the field

Home field advantage is a pivotal part of baseball. During the 2021 season’s city championship run, Morgan Park won two momentous city playoff games at home, which led them to their May 28, 2021, championship win against Simeon. They outlasted them in a 14-11 victory on the road, marking their second city title in program history. They won their first in 2014.

Freeman said it hurts when the team travels to away games at schools with more resources and financial investment into their fields, because she knows the conditions back at home are nowhere near equal.

“If you look at some of the stats from the other schools, they’re getting their games in because they have the turf fields which don’t make you miss the games,” Freeman said. “If it rains real good here, we are going to miss a game.”

The installation of a turf infield and outfield could cost about $1.2 million, according to Radcliffe.

Photo by Mike Hicks for The TRiiBE ®
Photo by Mike Hicks for The TRiiBE ®

According to Gonzalez, Cubs Charities recognizes the benefits of turf fields compared to natural grass fields. To date, the largest Diamond Project investment was a 2012 grant for $2.5 million toward an overall $5 million project to install a turf field at Kerry Wood Cubs Field in the Roscoe Village neighborhood on the North Side. 

The field is owned and operated by the Chicago Park District — which received the grant funds — and is available for rental, according to its website. It’s accessible to high schools citywide, recreational leagues and the public. 

“That’s a pretty costly amount of money,” Gonzalez said. “I think part of it is, can we partner with other organizations or other funders to make those turf fields happen? Obviously, we are very open to that. But that’s a big price tag for us to just invest in one area at a time, especially since there’s a need across the city.”

Gonzalez said the Cubs Charities donation to the school in 2017 and 2019 were anomalies. Cubs Charities typically does not donate to individual high schools. In those two instances, Cubs Charities opted to make a community investment into the Morgan Park neighborhood, which also included a $50,000 grant for infield rehab at Ada Park, a Chicago Park District park about one mile east of Morgan Park High School.

Both Cubs Charities grants to Morgan Park High School were sent to the Children First Fund. From there, the Chicago Board of Education must approve capital request forms submitted by Morgan Park High School as part of the board’s capital plan, according to CPS sports communication manager Joey Gelman. Overall, the timeline for completion of a project ranges between one and two years.

To circumvent not having a turf field, Radcliffe moved at least one game this season to Ozinga Field, home of minor league baseball team Windy City Thunderbolts in Crestwood, Ill. On April 6, Morgan Park played its first conference game of the season at Ozinga Field, about a 20-minute drive from the high school. The team beat William Jones College Preparatory High School 11 to 5.

Playing on Ozinga’s turf field, however, costs $525 per game — and that’s only if the field is available. Other nearby turf baseball fields, such as the ones at the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, the Chicago Park District’s Christopher Columbus Park or the University of Illinois at Chicago’s outdoor complex, are all booked up.

“When the pandemic was in effect, some teams were not playing out there as much so there were a lot of openings, but since the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted everyone has booked fields,” Radcliffe said.

There’s no seating available for fans at the Mustangs’ home field.Some people bring collapsible chairs and line them up along the perimeter to sit during the game. Photo by Lee Edwards for The TRiiBE ®

In an interview with The TRiiBE, Morgan Park athletic director Ebony Jones acknowledged that her student athletes’ self-esteem might suffer from visiting opponent facilities with more resources.

“You go and look at some of those suburban fields where things are all turfed out and they have grandiose stadiums and our kids see that and then come back and see less sufficient environments to play in,” she said. “It kind of puts certain things in their mind, like, ‘why don’t we have certain things?’”

Jones said the school’s athletic department does not have an independent budget, but rather funds are taken from the school’s general budget to pay for things related to athletics. All additional capital is raised through fundraisers, donations, and the activities fee of $100 to $150 that Morgan Park athletes are required to pay for every sport they play.

Tracking Community Investment

The TRiiBE reached out to CPS for more clarity on the use of Diamond Project funds for the Morgan Park High School baseball field. In an email on May 9, CPS press secretary Evan F. Moore said, “There are no district capital projects related to the Morgan Park High School baseball field for FY17 – or to date – that utilize the Cubs Charities Diamond Project Capital Grant.” CPS officials have not yet responded to our inquiries, but Morgan Park’s athletic director did respond, saying, “I answered all the questions I could during the initial conversation.”

However, Moore said, CPS has approved other projects related to Morgan Park High School. Currently, CPS has approved and assigned $9 million in site improvements for a new football field with running track, bleachers, light fixtures, landscaping, re-paving the driver’s education parking lot and campus parking lot, and adding stormwater retention management. Those projects are scheduled to be completed by fall 2022.

A few South Side baseball fields have been updated through the Board of Education’s capital request process. The board approved plans in 2019 to upgrade Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy’s baseball and softball facilities, and in 2018 for a field renovation project at Lindblom Park, where Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School’s baseball and softball teams play their games.

The Game Day Experience

There’s no seating available for fans at the Mustangs’ home field. Everyone stands along the perimeter behind home plate, just a few feet away from speeding traffic on West Monterey and South Vincennes Avenues. Some people bring collapsible chairs and line them up along the perimeter to sit during the game. Fans have to walk to the nearby Chicago Police Department’s 22nd District station to use the restroom, Freeman said.

Following a 7-2 home defeat to Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School on April 11, Freeman described the game-day atmosphere as a “family feeling.” However, she said, being prepared for everything comes with the territory as a fan of Mustangs baseball.

“Keep everything in your trunk; you’ve got to be prepared because you never know what this weather is going to be,” Freeman said with a laugh. “The sun comes out, then we get hot. When it goes down, the true Windy City comes out.”

Left to right: Shanoda Redmond-Moore, Kim Freeman, Stacey Charles and Shimreeyaw Duff at a Morgan Park HS home game against Holy Trinity on March 16, 2022. Photo by Lee Edwards for The TRiiBE ®
TRiiBE contributor Lee Edwards interviewing Morgan Park HS baseball coach Ernest Radcliffe. Photo by Mike Hicks for The TRiiBE ®

Earlier this season, Morgan Park defeated Evergreen Park Community High School 8-1 on the road with a flurry of late inning runs at their stadium. Evergreen Park plays in a brand new sports complex complete with turf fields, stadium lights, a sound system, stands, a concession space, protective nets for bystanders and two separate scoreboards for the softball and baseball team.

Players like senior first baseman Devan King are not making any excuses. 

“It’s of course slowed the season down, but we’ve stayed up to speed,” King told The TRiiBE during practice on April 4. “We have a facility out on the West Side so we’ve been hitting and taking ground balls trying to stay ready as long as we can.”

Radcliffe said he rents an indoor facility at 22 N. Pulaski Road  at a cost of $3,000 per month under his youth sports organization, Radcliffe’s Youth Sports Organization, that players can access for additional practice.

is a freelance contributor for The Triibe.