A longtime baseball icon in Edinburg says school officials have thrown him a curveball by putting in jeopardy the fate of the baseball field residents call a miniature Fenway Park.
Early this month baseball coach Nick Cantu Sr., said he was “shut out” of the field by school officials when ECISD Superintendent Gilbert Garza and Athletic officials informed him that the District would be taking over the maintenance of David E. Soto Field due to being “non-compliant” with UIL regulations.
School officials say the field is in dire need of repair, and presents various safety hazards that need to be fixed before play resumes. Cantu says it’s a matter of fixing something that wasn’t broken to begin with.
“I think it was more heresay, people calling in without any facts and that’s what caused the superintendent to do something about it,” Cantu told the Edinburg Review following his speech during the open forum portion of the ECISD School Board meeting on Jan. 13
“If it’s wrong, and they don’t get their facts right, why should they act on it,” Cantu said. “If I’m wrong then I will be the first to admit and say ‘hey, do something about it’. But after 22 years of building that place to what it is now, and playing more than 150 games a year without their help, and they still say ‘we are going to take care of it, and we are going to fix it.
“How can they fix something that isn’t broken,” Cantu said.
Over the course of more than two decades Cantu, along with ex-players and volunteers built the field,which was formerly a cow pasture off of Freddy Gonzalez from the ground up. Cantu said he paid much of the field construction himself from discarded construction sites and used school equipment.
ECISD Athletics says the field has been “out of compliance” with regulations set by UIL. The infrastructure of the facility has many construction hazards and safety concerns, according to Athletics Director Joe Filoteo.
Cantu was restricted to a consulting-type of role because he lacked the resources to continue to maintain the field, Filoteo said.
“I even told him that I would want his input as to what were some of the things that the park needed to continue to groom and upgrade it,” Filoteo said. “I know Mr. Cantu could help us do that, but we have the resources, materials and manpower and he (Cantu) was restricted to that because the resources we have to maintain the field.
“If we are going to make it into any playing facility then there is going to have (to be) a lot of reconstruction and development from plumbing to electricity, and structures that are now in place on the field,” Filoteo said Monday by phone. “It does create some safety hazards in compliance with the regular playing field.”
Cantu says he has a $1 million liability insurance policy which he purchased from California-based Gagliardi Insurance. A “Hold Harmless” agreement, which in practice removes all liability and loss during all activity, has been signed off by school administration since the field’s opening more than 20 years ago, Cantu said.
Cantu said he spends nearly $7,000 a year on field upkeep, and reminds that ESPN once called the field “the nicest facility” they had visited during their trip around the country.
ECISD agrees that the field is one of the best groomed in the District.
“It’s one of the most well groomed fields the district has, we just wanted to make sure it was going to be in compliance with all of the playing regulations that we must form under UIL,” Filotelo said. “We know that this is a unique facility, and we are going to maintain the uniqueness of that field. If anything, our goal is to upgrade it to a full fledged usable and manageable ball park.”
Some in the community call it a miniature Fenway Park after all the memories that have come from the field.
“He (Cantu) built that field from the ground up, everything that’s there. He raised the money to build it. If you go out there, it feels like Fenway Park to me. It feels just like home to me,” said Arnulfo Banda, boardmember with Edinburg Pony Baseball. “Nick has done a fantastic job, and as far as we’re concerned it’s a no-brainer.
“If the School Board were to make the right decision, they should probably hire him,” Banda said. “Pay him $1 and he would be able to maintain that field. If they want to cover themselves because of liabilities and all that, that’s something they should want to consider.
“Find some kind of solution because he loves that field and it wouldn’t be the same without him,” Banda said.
The field was named after Edinburg High School baseball player David E. Soto. who tragically died of leukemia in 1989. but not before leaving an imprint on the heart of Cantu who says he has spent two decades devoted to the boy’s legacy.