McKeon Park Soaring to New Heights
One of the many charms exclusive to baseball parks is the ability to play around with its dimensions. Outfield fences come in all shapes and sizes, such as Fenway Park’s 37-and-a-half-foot Green Monster. Many parks have other endearing quirks, such as the ivy which drapes the outfield perimeter at Wrigley Field.
For years, Judy Walden Scarafile Field at McKeon Park in Hyannis, Mass. has been graced with a picturesque location overlooking the nearby harbor, the sounds of the Hyannis-Nantucket ferry as audible as the crack of the wooden bat in the historic Cape Cod Baseball League.Unfortunately, one of the other distinct features of the park was its sunken right field, built over wetlands, which at times made the feet of whoever was manning the position invisible from the infield.
“It needed to be fixed for a long time,” noted Brad Pfeifer, president of the Cape League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks, McKeon Park’s chief tenant.
At long last, the field – which also had a drop off behind second base – was evened out and no longer were portions of the playing surface upwards of three feet below sea level. The ballpark received a facelift that went far beyond right field, however, further establishing McKeon Park into one of the finest fields over the Cape Cod Canal.
Ten years after new lights and a field house were installed at McKeon Park, a brand-new scoreboard and dugouts, as well as a skybox lounge, were also added to the facility in time for the 2019 season on the Cape. The renovation was the end result of around 10 months of nonstop construction which began as soon as the Harbor Hawks’ 2018 campaign came to an end.
Pfeifer said that the renovation of the park, which was originally built in the 1970s, was first discussed in February 2017. There were several hoops to jump through for the ambitious project, which wound up running a tab of just under $1 million. Following the approval of a $700,000 Community Preservation Act from the Barnstable Town Council, however, the wheels were in motion to upgrade the field which, despite its shortcomings, was still ranked as the No. 1 park in the Cape League by Stadium Journey as recently as 2014.
“There are all-stars coming from all across the country who want to play professional baseball, and the field just wasn’t up to the specs they’re used to,” Pfeifer said. “The unevenness, it just wasn’t deserving of the players.”
Another $150,000 was raised for the project independently, while the Yawkey Foundation, a philanthropic organization named in honor of the former Red Sox owner, donated an additional $100,000 to the cause.
“We’ve got a lot of community support,” Pfeifer said.
Aside from the coaching staff, everyone involved with the Harbor Hawks does so as a volunteer. Pfeifer, who’s been involved with the club in some capacity since 2000, is a mortgage officer by day. Along with Pfeifer, Harbor Hawks General Manager Tino DiGiovanni and Peter Scarafile – whose wife, Judy Walden Scarafile, is the namesake of the field – spearheaded the efforts to get the project done.
Landscaping duties were performed by Joyce Landscaping, a company based out of nearby Marston Mills, while Ed Pesce of Pesce Engineering & Associates in Plymouth, Mass. served as the chief engineer of the project, which was finished just in time for the Harbor Hawks’ home opener in 2019.
“It was a joint effort,” Pfeifer said.
The first step of the project included excavating the entire playing surface, as well as installing new irrigation and drainage system. About 6,000 yards of dirt were removed from the field, Pfeifer said, while 12,000 yards of new materials were brought in.
Several other baseball teams get use out of the field, too, including St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis. The Lions, as they’re known, won three straight state championships from 2014-16, playing out of pre-construction McKeon Park.
After spending the 2019 season playing home games at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, about 25 miles away in Buzzards Bay – their season doesn’t quite lineup with the Harbor Hawks – the Lions sat idle in the spring of 2020 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which canceled all spring sports in the Bay State.
St. John Paul II coach Chris Russell said that at times during practices, the team wouldn’t be able to use the right field or even portions of center field if there’d been recent rains. Despite its shortcomings, Russell said that his team was spoiled playing at McKeon Park even before the renovations. Now, it’ll be a whole new level, he said.
“We’re so spoiled,” Russell said. “It’s level, it drains well now, there’s beautiful dugouts…high school kids go in there and just don’t know how good they have it.”
Added St. John Paul II Athletic Director Richard Fazzi, “being a former Division III basketball coach and then coming here, seeing the work that was getting done, I just couldn’t believe that this is where a high school plays baseball games. It’s just such a first-class facility. I was in awe of how lucky our kids are to play on a field that looks like this.”
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There are still some more upgrades coming to McKeon Park, including new bleachers for fans – though many of the roughly 2,500 who come through on game days set up shop beyond the outfield fences in lawn chairs, anyway.
The Harbor Hawks’ 2020 season was also kiboshed by the coronavirus pandemic. With a hope that things will be resolved in time to salvage next season, Pfeifer is taking a pragmatic approach. He acknowledged how many of the teams’ sponsors are hurting financially because of the pandemic, but stayed cautiously optimistic that things will be ready to roll in time for Hyannis’s home opener, which already has a date: June 13, 2021, vs. the Cotuit Kettleers at 6 PM.
“I’m thinking we’ll be fine,” Pfeifer said. “I have to think that, I guess.”