The baseball park at Bellevue and South Parkway now is operating under the auspices of the Tri-State Youth Baseball Academy, which is off and running with a 20-year, cost-free lease approved by the Memphis City Council in February.
Opening day was last Saturday (May 19), with about 600 people making their way to Jesse Turner Park. Each of the about 30 league teams got a chance to play at least 45 minutes, whetting appetites for the seasons ahead.
Tri-State Youth Baseball Academy Chairman Tony James said about 35 teams will be in the league when it is in full force. Doing the math in his head, James said 35 teams with 15 children per team adds up to 525 people that the academy is trying to help steer clear of the criminal justice system.
"The community needs an uplift in terms of family-oriented activity," said James, who has professional baseball playing experience. "This certainly is a family-oriented activity for people to bring their children out and reinvigorate baseball in the community.
"This location was a major baseball Mecca in years past," James said. "So we have brought it back and will continue our efforts to make sure it never leaves again."
Much work has been done on the park, said James, including putting in a new field for smaller children behind the big field. Youth will compete in T-ball, coach pitch, midgets, junior and senior divisions.
After the City Council approved the lease (with 5-year increments) in February, there was a hiccup that delayed the transition when Council member Wanda Halbert later expressed concern about fees that would be charged to teams.
"When you put the kind of money we have put into this place, that we have raised money to do, we have to charge somebody, somewhere that wants to use the field," said James. "We don't want the field torn up. We want the grounds to look presentable for anyone to come out and be able to have a fun time.''
As it stands, different groups can for a "small minimal fee" arrange to make use of the park, if existing event schedules allow. The baseball team of The LeMoyne-Owen College makes use of the field for its fall and spring seasons. The college is responsible for field maintenance and clean up after each of its games.
"We made a commitment to LeMoyne because we certainly want to see the college grow and bring in activities that students will be encouraged and participating in. We don't charge LeMoyne anything," said James.
The park, once known as Bellevue Park, was renamed for local civil rights activist Jesse Turner, president of Tri-State Bank for decades.