I’ve been Big Duck.
I’ve been Big Coach.
I’ve been floored by what is happening where I was both.
Turns out that big ol’ city to our south — San Diego — has nothing on Encinitas.
And isn’t that a shame.
While the Chargers and San Diego ride their stadium merry-go-round, we present Magdalena Ecke YMCA and the Encinitas Little League.
These two organizations are dear to my heart and I’m not alone. Thousands of my neighbors have sweated in the YMCA gym; sampled the sweets at the ELL snack bar.
It was a pleasure being called “Big Duck” as I took two sons through the YMCA’s Indian Guides. It was a moniker that always made kids smile and isn’t that why we’re on this earth?
And there’s few greater greetings than when a youngster shouts “Coach” in your direction.
I took those same two sons through ELL, from T-ball to the Majors. It was such a hoot doing it that I remain in the dugout.
My sons with untied laces and untucked jerseys are gone but I still enjoy my sunsets with a team that this year answers to the A’s.
But all is not rosy on this plot of land once filled with poinsettias.
The bloom has wilted on the relationship between these two anchors, which make Encinitas a dynamite place to live.
The bottom line is the YMCA wants to expand and it’s batting its eyes at the ELL fields.
Ready for parking lots and facilities where kids scream, “Hey batter, batter!”
Would the YMCA really muscle out young ‘uns learning America’s past time, but oh so much more?
I’m not a lawyer so it’s easy to dumb this controversy down, so here goes.
ELL once hung its single at Moonlight Beach, where it started in 1957. It’s among the oldest Little Leagues in San Diego County.
But ELL needed more space and Paul Ecke, Sr., the patriarch of the family with a name synonymous with poinsettias, offered a parcel on 300 Saxony Road. In the late-1980s, the current four baseball/multipurpose fields at 200 Saxony Road were introduced and it’s been smiles and giggles since.
That was so true last summer, when the ELL All-Star team — with a poinsettia on its longtime logo — went on a historic run. Out of the estimated 400 Southern California Little Leagues, none were better than ELL. The plucky group that garnered much publicity for Encinitas finished two wins shy of reaching the Little League World Series. It took the national champion, Nevada, to eliminate ELL.
From that success, ELL has never been more popular. It has 542 registered players and this nonprofit never turns someone away for financial reasons.
But sadly ELL is the nail and YMCA has the hammer.
Recently the 25-year lease between Encinitas and the YMCA expired. The city exercised the 10-year extension, but it came with a previously non-existent caveat: either party could end the 10-year extension with 30 days notice.
If the ELL, and other users of those fields get the word, they have to scram within a month. Sadly in this active community where people love to recreate, park space is in short supply.
There’s certainly nothing that could replace the four fields, even with the opening of the Encinitas Sports Park.
So ELL, in its bid for stability and clarity, has offered Field 1 to the YMCA.
ELL will move its juniors program (13- and 14-year-olds) to Encinitas Sports Park if it can retain Fields 2, 3 and 4 and the YMCA removes its 30-day trigger.
The ELL position is one of compromise. While ELL, Encinitas Soccer and others would lose a field, the YMCA would have a large chunk of real estate to do with as it pleases.
Will that be enough to sway the YMCA?
Will that be enough to salve the wounds of the ELL, which feels betrayed that Ecke’s original wish — Encinitas kids playing Little League on his land — is being hijacked?
We’re not sure how this will turn out. But it’s worth watching because this has the potential of being a big deal.
And that comes straight from the Big Duck and the Big Coach.