As a teenager, Coaldale resident Wayne Figner often stepped up to the plate on the Seek ball field to take his turn at bat for the Merchants Little League team.
"Back in the old days, Little League was a big thing," Figner said. Coaldale used to support its own Little League team, and Figner often played on the field in the Seek section of town. Playing at the Seek field "was almost an everyday occurrence," he said.
In those days, the late 1960s and early 1970s, young teens typically spent most of their free time outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
In more recent years, teens are more likely to spend their time sitting on the sofa playing video games. The ball field where Figner and his buddies once played has fallen into disrepair: Weeds have grown up on the now rocky, hard-packed infield and there are no benches or fences. Instead of well-attended baseball games, the field is now mostly used for practice, when it is used at all.
Now, the ball field, in the Seek section of Coaldale, is up for a second inning. A group of volunteers, led by borough resident Robby Krapf, is bringing the field back to its glory days. The volunteers gather at the field on weekends to shovel dirt, pull weeds and spread infield mix.
"There are a lot of weeds that need to be cleared out. On the infield, a lot of infield mix needs to be put down yet," Krapf said on one recent Saturday. "We're hoping to get some of the topsoil on the outfield and start on the seeding."
The project began "a few years ago, basically with talk," Krapf said. "We talked about what needs to be done."
It was the experience of his 8-year-old son, Bryan, that gave Krapf the motivation to get the ball rolling to restore Seek to a popular game field.
Krapf recalls "hearing stories of how the park used to be, the games that were played here. How there were actually 12 baseball teams in Coaldale at one time in the 1950s or 1960s. I would love to see this field back to its former glory. Basically there is this piece of local sports history sitting vacant with only a backstop and a field completely overgrown," he said.
"I started working on the field in the beginning of June, after my son Bryan didn't want to go to baseball practice because the little guys didn't have a regular ball field to practice on. Lansford Little League had such a great turnout this year that it became hard to get all of the teams on the fields to practice. Thanks to Mike Turrano, Jim Kindt and Paul Blasko, they gave Bryan a chance to try out for the 9-10 year old team, which turned his season around," he said.
The playing field crunch prompted Krapf to take a harder look at the Seek field, which was "sitting there idle, as it was too rocky and rough for kids to play on."
He started out paying out of pocket for the infield mix and materials.
"However, I knew I could not afford to do this all on my own," he said.
Krapf approached his employer, Hart Metals, which agreed to donate two tons of sand for the project.
His sister-in-law, Angela Krapf, mentioned that the Coaldale community improvement group CHOSE also planned some work at the park.
"So we agreed to pool our resources in hopes that the infield would be ready for play and the outfield ready for seeding in the fall of this year," Krapf said.
"Angels" have been contributing to the project through volunteer work or by buying material.
"We've been doing (the infield mix and topsoil) a scoop at a time. The majority of the money came out of my pocket, and a lot of my friends and family," Krapf said. "Everything put down so far has been donated, and I hope that continues."
The group is also seeking donations to buy fencing and benches for team seating.
"A majority of the infield mix, topsoil and grass seed has been donated by members of my family, Including myself and my wife Kristen, parents Robert and Robin," Krapf said. "My son and daughter saved their allowances to buy a scoop of infield mix. Keith and Angela Krapf donated infield mix, Stone Garden of Tamaqua donated some infield mix, the Coaldale Cub Scouts donated infield mix. Aimee Wood donated grass seed, Donnette and Donovan Miller donated topsoil and grass seed, Jim and Kelly Kindt donated infield mix, Rosella D'urso donated one and a half scoops of infield mix, Jake Adamitis donated grass seed."
David and Nancy Reed of Andreas loaned the use of their dump truck.
But much more infield mix and topsoil is needed, he said.
In June, the physical work of clearing the field, putting down infield mix began. The mix is sand, silt and clay. Before that, the infield was sand, stone and dirt.
"That would make the turf unsafe for a slide," Krapf said.
The old stuff must be cleared off the infield before the new mix is put down so it doesn't creep up through the mix.
That Seek field looks a lot nicer than it used to," Figner said. He recently brought his small tractor to the field to help spread infield mix.
Krapf's goal is to have the infield done and the outfield covered with topsoil and seeded, and some benches installed, by fall.
"That's the bare minimum goal," he said. "But there's still quite a bit that needs to be done."
The volunteer labor is priceless, given the expected cost of the restoration.
"To finish the field, bases, pitchers mound, home plate, fence it in, provide seating for at minimum the players probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000, depending on fencing (which will be one of the largest expenses)," Krapf said. "So you can see why we are working so hard to get these items donated."
"If we had the money to buy the materials we could complete the project within a two-month period; without the money it may take years to complete. The field will be ready to play on by the spring of next year. Whether its fenced in and there is seating will depend on funding."