It is the busiest time of the year for local sports in Pleasanton, from the youth levels up through the high schools. From baseball to the ever-growing world of lacrosse. From softball to the rapidly rising sport of rugby.
Everywhere you look, there seems to be a practice of some sort going on, and it is no exception again this year. But something new accompanies the latest season -- the sense of anticipation.
Amid the battle for precious field space to practice and play games, the plan that has been Phase II of the Bernal Community Park project was given life and, in fact, is closing in on completion, set for this fall.
The massive, 16-acre project, set across Bernal Avenue from the Alameda County Fairgrounds, will have three synthetic, lighted fields that will be available to all the various youth sports clubs in Pleasanton. One of the fields will feature concrete stadium-style seating.
Phase I was the installation of baseball fields at the park.
All of the youth sports clubs that use outdoor fields have come together and are working to fund a $2 million obligation to the city of Pleasanton to help build the complex.
Soccer, rugby, lacrosse, baseball, football and softball have all come together to make this work. It promises to be a wonderful environment for youth sports in Pleasanton and provide some badly needed lighted, year-round playing space.
Even though Pleasanton has the reputation as having excellent facilities, Bernal Community Park is filling a huge void.
"It's going to be great," said Kevin Crow, executive director of the Ballistic United Soccer Club (BUSC). "We have a year-round program but have been dealing with part-time facilities."
The lack of an all-weather facility, combined with limited hours of daylight during the winter months, created some issues for BUSC. Being forced to rent field space at Las Positas College (Livermore) or Fallon Sports Park (Dublin) drew complaints from soccer clubs based in those cities.
"Clubs were complaining that we were using fields in their cities that was against league rules," said Crow, who emphasized his league paid to use those fields. "We actually got in trouble from the league for using fields in other cities."
It was the Livermore Fusion Soccer Club that filed the complaint with the NorCal Premier League, and the league in turn sanctioned BUSC.
Thanks to the new facility, that won't be an issue any longer.
"We have been having to deal with this for years," Crow said. "But when (Bernal Community Park) opens, we can even go during the week at night."
The Pleasanton Rage girls' soccer club echoed Crow's thoughts.
"This will be huge, especially at certain times of the year," said Jon Asmussen, a member of the Rage board as well as a member of the field committee. "During the winter months, it gets tough when it gets dark so early, and when it rains, everything shuts down. We will be able to play all year."
Lacrosse has been stuck at just two spots: Hart Middle School for the boys and Harvest Park Middle School for the girls. They are two separate clubs, but both faced the same problem -- an all-weather practice site that is lit.
"It does a lot for us," said Jeff Sensiba, vice president of the boys' Pleasanton Lacrosse Club. "We will have reliable fields that allow us to have more practice time and some games. We will even be able to have some tournaments."
As the leagues have grown in popularity, the field space did not, and it made for some uncomfortable times. The drought forced the school districts to cut back on already-sparse maintenance of the fields at the schools, turning them at times into glorified cow pastures.
It got so bad with the number of gopher holes and other maintenance issues that the situation bordered on embarrassing, not to mention unsafe.
"There was a comment last year from a parent on a visiting team that said, 'oh gosh, we have to play here? I hope no one gets hurt,'" Sensiba said. "Last year, we had a referee blow his knee out doing a game at Hart."
While a facility like Bernal is a blessing and the apparent answer for sports such as soccer, lacrosse and football, things have not been rosy for all youth leagues.
Little League has been fighting for its spot, suffering declining enrollment. Whether it has been losing players to other sports such as lacrosse and rugby or parents taking their kids and forming their own travel team, enticing others to follow suit, it has been a struggle.
But this year, the situation appears to be getting better. What were three leagues (Pleasanton National, Pleasanton American and Pleasanton Foothill) are now two leagues as the National basically absorbed the American.
Pleasanton National was the strongest league based on numbers and embraced the chance to form with Pleasanton American to create the new Pleasanton Baseball.
"We have been able to boost numbers to make for a better experience for the kids," Pleasanton Baseball president Mike Paden said. "In the major's division alone, there are 10 teams this year with 12 kids per team. We have close to 900 kids overall."
Baseball and softball will benefit the least in terms of field space at Bernal, but Paden is quick to point out it is more about the city overall rather than what benefits one sport.
"Our overall perspective is that our kids play multiple sports and will be playing something there," he said. "And at the end of the day, isn't it all about what is best for the kids?"
The new fields will help baseball in at least one respect. In the past, player tryouts -- or evaluations -- take place toward the end of the winter. If the weather is bad, local leagues end up in parking lots. Now they can use the all-weather fields and literally keep the kids off the streets.
"Exactly," Paden said. "We tried to get on some fields this year but did end up in a parking lot or on the pavement."
The final piece of the puzzle is how youth sports clubs will fare with their fundraising to pay off the facility.
Part of what the leagues have done to help raise funds is to create a "Donor Wall" where former coaches can be recognized on a "Legends" area or where individual families can be remembered.
Asmussen is the liaison from the Rage to the Bernal complex and has focused on pushing the sponsorship thus far.
"We have a Coaches and Legends campaign and we have a Donor Wall," Asmussen said. "Go to the website (www.playbernal.org) and see what is available if you are interested."