What are your personal experiences with amateur and youth diamond sports in Minneapolis, such as baseball or softball? (ie. As a player, parent, or fan)
Billy Menz – My son has played RBI Baseball in the parks and also has played with the Minneapolis Millers travel program. I have been a coach in the parks and a parent for travel baseball. I have extensive experience and knowledge of the rec programming options and the travel options in Minneapolis. I have also started a group, NESE Baseball, that supports park teams and players to play in A level tournaments in the Metro and participate in the John Donaldson Fall Baseball League at Northeast Park.
What type of relationship do you think the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) should have with traveling sports organizations like 612 Fastpitch softball and MYBA (baseball) that serve Minneapolis residents?
Billy Menz – I believe that the Park Board should consider groups like 612 and MYBA as partners instead of competitors or customers. One of the reasons I am running for this office is to bridge the knowledge gap for our MPRB around travel sports and their importance to a thriving youth community. MPRB does not need to be in the travel sports arena, but we cannot continue to ignore this part of the youth experience and hope that it will go away. We must take bold action and lead. To do that our recreation department should be working with groups to strengthen our rec programming options by working together and creating two way communication for kids and adults to know what options are out there for young people in ALL parts of the city.
Even though the number of U.S. kids playing baseball and softball combined increased by nearly 3 million between 2013 and 2018, (Source: ESPN/MLB), the SW Parks Master Plan eliminates almost half of the ballfields in Southwest Minneapolis (17 of the 36 ballfields), eliminates two of the three baseball diamonds that SWHS baseball uses for their three teams, and moves SWHS softball from Pershing, where it’s convenient and better fields than Linden Hills. Please describe your position on our request that the Southwest Parks Master Plan be amended to provide better access to diamonds, including reinstating diamonds that are currently slated for elimination.
Billy Menz – We cannot nor should we maintain and keep as many diamonds as we have in the past. I don’t think we have found a great balance yet though and we must be creating quality over quantity. This takes parks giving up some of their space to have improved diamonds and some to not have any at all. We must change our landscape to be more efficient with how we manage our field resources. I am hopeful to utilize our fields as leverage to create opportunities for young athletes in the community. MPRB needs to ensure we are not reacting to small trends and should think about revenue with our field resources. I don’t want to sound like a numbers hog, but our fields cost money to maintain and that is valuable to our park teams and our travel teams. We should be looking at how much value we are providing the kids and adults of Minneapolis so we can effectively and professionally maintain our precious field resources for generations to come.
If elected, would you be willing to work with “Play Ball Minneapolis” to evaluate improvements in MPRB’s scheduling software and technology? For example, increasing visibility into field usage and ease of use for organizations that schedule games and practices at park facilities? Please explain your answer.
Billy Menz – Yes. However, park kids and teams come first. I am supportive of the order of priority set out in the permit agreements, but I do think that our parks are better and safer with more kids and adults in them. I do think we need to make space available more formally when fields are not in use. I think this means ensuring that park users can easily rent and reserve field space if it is not taken by other park programming or designated “open” times.
Are you familiar with the current MOU (memorandum of understanding) and shared use agreements in relation to diamond sports and/or athletics in general between the MPRB and Minneapolis Public Schools? If so, can you comment on any improvements that could be evaluated and/or ongoing discussions that might take place to improve communication?
Billy Menz – Yes, I am familiar and it is improving by more of us citing the MOU. The two organizations recently updated the agreement in an effort to give it more “teeth”. We must continue to create strong links and partnerships with the schools but also ensure that is happening equitably across the city. I think that the will to collaborate is there. It is the job of the new Board and the schools to create systems and other agreements that make that collaboration seamless and functional.
Anecdotally, stories of players who live in Minneapolis but play in programs in surrounding suburbs like St. Louis Park, Edina, Richfield Robbinsdale and St. Anthony are commonplace in youth sports. What should MPRB do, if anything, to address the flight of youth players to other cities?
Billy Menz – MPRB should create better youth sports programming. We must extend seasons, develop coaching experts, collaborate with high schools, create middle school sports options that work, and ensure competitive options are matching what our kids want. I am a big supporter of Rec level sports and that all players can have success in those elements. However, it must be done with thoughtfulness and in the spirit of competitive balance. If we can provide a league structure where players are getting to compete, teams are stable and predictable, and registration is seamless. We can do this and keep kids in Minneapolis, but we can’t expect the wave to come back without making changes to meet the modern youth sports environment. We can hold true to our Rec ideals and meet the needs of more competitive athletes. They are not independent of each other and we must stop fooling ourselves that they are. That is the easy way out, but the path to the end of public sports in Minneapolis. Nobody wants that end result, but without action, we are heading in that direction — quickly. I plan to fight for public sports in Minneapolis and I believe many of our travel sports partners will help in that fight.