League officials Chris McEnerney, left, and George Spescha, stand at the ball field behind Milford Library with Matthew Woods, who just gave them a check for $75,000 to build a fence.
It would have taken a lot of candy bar sales to raise the $100,000 or more that the Milford Junior Major League needed to build a fence to separate two ball fields behind the Milford Public Library.
Thanks to a huge donation from the Norma F. Pfriem Foundation, local ballplayers won’t have to raise quite that much money.
League President George Spescha recently got a check for $75,000 from the Norma F. Pfriem Foundation, and with that he is expecting to have the fence up by the start of opening day at the end of April.
The league had been raising funds for a while, but never would have come close to the dollar figure needed, Spescha said.
League officials didn’t think the price tag was going to be quite so high. They had estimated $50,000 to $60,000 for a fence that could be taken down twice a year and then reinstalled to separate the Bernard and Francis fields behind the library.
But because the land is fill area, built atop what was once part of Milford Harbor, threaded posts will have to be drilled about 43 feet into the ground to provide a secure base for the fence posts.
That bit of news added so much to the project that Spescha said the league wouldn’t have even pursued building a fence had it known.
But timing worked in the league’s favor. Officials didn’t know about the extra cost until the same day that Matthew Woods, one of the trustees for the Norma F. Pfriem Foundation, announced the big donation.
Woods, a local attorney who chairs Milford’s Permanent School Facilities Building Committee, said he was talking to Mayor Ben Blake about school buildings one day when the conversation moved to ball fields. That’s when Blake mentioned that the Junior Major League was trying to build a fence to increase safety at the Milford fields.
Woods jumped at the idea to help.
Norma Pfriem Foundation
An Internet search reveals that the Norma F. Pfriem Foundation donates to Bridgeport Hospital, supports a cancer center with the Norma Pfriem name, and donates to hospice, the Kennedy Center and similar causes.
But the ball field fence is really right up the foundation’s alley, Woods said.
Before she died in 2004, Norma Pfriem donated $100,000 to renovate the facilities at Wasson Field in Milford, so “it fits right in with what she did when she was alive,” Woods said.
Her family used to own the Post Publishing Co., today the Connecticut Post. Ms. Pfriem had a large estate when she was alive, and gave money away then. When she died, with no family left, she left her entire estate — about $50 million — to the foundation.
Woods said the foundation gives away about $5 million each year to causes that the three board members deem in line with her philosophy.
Fence for safety
Baseball league officials believe the ball field fence is very important and have been trying to build it for more than a year. First they had to get city approval, then they had to start whittling away at the price tag.
Youths ages 4 to 12 play on the Bernard and Francis fields, which are back to back, and there’s a chance of balls being hit into one field from the other, league officials said. There’s also a chance that two players on different fields might run into each other running for fly balls.
“We were trying to be proactive in terms of safety,” Spescha said several months ago. Robert Wheway, a league member and engineer, repeated that when he spoke before the aldermen at a subsequent meeting.
Wheway also pointed out that having a real fence allows ball players to have the experience of hitting an over-the-fence home run.
The league initially wanted to put up permanent fencing at the fields, but met with resistance from the Milford Oyster Festival Committee, which uses the area for its summertime festival. So the league proposed a temporary fence that could be dismantled before and after the Oyster Festival.
Still, there were problems and questions, like who would take down the temporary fence and then put it back up, and who would pay for that.
League volunteers will be responsible for putting up the fence, taking it down and storing it, so there won’t be any cost or burden to the city.
Spescha said the league will try to raise $15,000 more to cover cost overruns and other expenses. But he’s confident the fence will be up for opening day.