By Rick Assad
It’s something fairly simple yet it changes the dynamic of the game of softball by its mere presence. And it’s also long overdue.
It’s a portable outfield fence at Olive Park that Providence High bought for $4,500 and will allow Burroughs the use of it when the Pioneers are not.
Burroughs hopes to get its own portable fence in the future but did install a bullpen fence.
“Having a fence equal having a softball field. Without the fence, it’s just a field you play softball on,” Providence coach Manny Travieso said. “Although we are just getting the okay to put our fence up, we are not getting a bullpen fence as of yet. This is something we will discuss in the near future.”
Travieso said that a fence legitimizes a ball that’s been hit hard rather than roll past the outfielder.
“Besides making it a real softball field, a player that hits it out, earns her runs batted in and earns the home run she deserves, like in a real softball field,” he said. “We had opposing teams okay it so far that it’s a home run because an out is 275 feet away. It’s simply a part of the game as the bases.”
Doug Nicol has been the longtime Burroughs softball coach and also said an outfield fence makes the field legitimate.
“As of now, we are sharing with Providence in a joint venture. However, the plan is to get our own fence next year and use it at all our games,” he said. “I am not sure when it’ll be in and when we can put it up, but hopefully before the end of this season.”
Burroughs has installed a bullpen fence which is the first step.
“Getting the bullpens were essential, from a practical development standpoint, and a safety standpoint,” Nicol said. “Now we can really focus on our pitcher/catcher sessions and get the most out of our workouts, as well as our players being safe during games.”
Likewise, Nicol also feels that a fence makes a well hit ball a real homer.
“The game is only true with a fence. We play 80 percent of our games with a fence and it rewards players for doing things right,” he said. “Also, CIF playoff games need to be played on fields with fences the farther you advance. Last year, we had to move our CIF semifinal game to another facility because we didn’t have a fence. Once our fence arrives, we shouldn’t have that issue anymore.”
Nicol added: “At the end of the day, all baseball and softball games at legitimate facilities are played at fields with fences,” he said. “Girls can hit home runs and doubles in the gap that are doubles and don’t roll forever for home runs. It just keeps the game truer to the way it is supposed to be played.”
Getting a fence wasn’t easy and it took a great deal of time and effort and money.
“In late 2019, when I took over as the varsity head coach for softball at Providence, I asked about a fence as soon as I found out we would be playing our home games at Olive Park,” Travieso said. “Right away, Providence said yes. Burbank Parks and Recreation said no. After the pandemic year in 2021, I went back to Parks and Recreation and asked again, they said no. “If they would allow us to have a fence, they would have to allow everyone to have a fence,” they said. “I don’t like to take no for an answer, so I asked again in early 2022 and I asked to talk to anyone else that would listen, as I want to fight this “no.”
Travieso went on: “I talked via Zoom to a higher up and she said no because Parks and Recreation did not want holes on the outfield. So, I found a standalone fence and asked again,” he said. “They said no because of insurance issues. I took the “no” as … No matter what I ask, as a private high school, we were going to be told no.”
Travieso then had an idea. “So, I contacted coach Doug, and we had coffee. I wanted to join forces, as I knew this way, we might be able to do something. He explained how he has been fighting for a fence and common-sense things for his softball team for more than a decade! I said Providence would buy us a fence and we would let you guys borrow it when we are not using it until you guys get your own, but we must get this approved,” he said. “Doug and I went to a Board of Education meeting and to our surprise, they were very receptive to helping, as it seemed they didn’t know about all of the asking I did.”
Grace Workman is a junior pitcher/first baseman at Providence and is happy that a portable outfield fence is now a part of the field she plays on.
“I am very excited to have a fence on our home field,” she said. “It sets our field apart from the rest of the fields at Olive Park. The whole school supports our softball program and I am so thankful to our athletic director, [James Jimenez] and all the facility and staff at Providence for purchasing the fence for the team.”
The strength of two coaches likely made the outfield fence a reality, according to Travieso, whose daughter, Lilly, is a junior infielder for the Cornell University women’s softball team.
“Providence said yes from day one to a fence request. This is an expensive fence, but Providence understood from day one, this was important for the team,” he explained. “Providence [baseball] plays at Foy Park with a fence, our softball team will also have a fence. Having an advocate for female athletes like me, thanks to my daughter’s foundation, ELLA (created due to the inequalities she saw in Burbank) and the weight of two high school head coaches, I believe it tipped the scale.”
Nicol chimed in with his side of the fence story.
“We have been in discussions for over a year on all of this, but it really only came to fruition after our players and families attended a Board of Education meeting and shined a light on the problems we were having getting things done, and also after we voiced our concerns about safety issues as well,” he said.
What was Nicol’s capacity in getting the fence?
“My role was really only as a facilitator in communicating with our players that they needed to advocate for themselves and be vocal in their need to be treated with more respect and dignity, and to be treated equally to their counterparts at Burroughs,” he said. “Throughout the years, there has always been complaining but no action. This group decided to take action and thought it was important to send a message and set an example to advocate for themselves by going to the Board of Education and making themselves heard. I only played a small part. All of the credit goes to the players, families and supporters who went to speak that night and be heard.”
Nicol added: “After we attended the meeting and made our feeling known, there was immediate action from both the City of Burbank, and the Board of Education. It was obvious that our kids advocating for themselves made a difference and people saw the struggles we were having,” he said. “There is some new leadership in the district that really came together and made a lot of this happen. In coordination with the City of Burbank, they made it happen. The main players in all of this were Diego Cevallos, the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department with the City of Burbank, as well as all of the Board of Education members. None of this would have happened without support from District staff Dennis Maxwell and Andrew Cantwell. They were sensational in meeting with our softball staff and hearing our concerns. After that, the ball started rolling really fast and things happened. I can’t thank them enough.”
It’s a good thing that besides Travieso and Nicol, other key people were there when the chips were down.
“A combination of new people in Parks and Recreation like Diego and the new president and others at the city council with the understanding how important it is to give these tough female athletes equality was simply a commonsense decision,” Travieso said.
Patti Workman is an administrator at Providence and an assistant coach for the softball team and also appreciates the new fence.
“Prior to yesterday’s game, Providence was the only school on our schedule that did not have an outfield fence,” she said recently. “I believe having an outfield fence is extremely important as it defines the field and provides an authentic playing environment for our team.”
It really does take a village to get things accomplished and that goes for getting the long overdue portable outfield fence and a permanent bullpen at Olive Park.