Field of Dreams? Not Quite at Chapman Field Park

The Ongoing Frustration at Chapman Field Park: Don’t Build It and They Won’t Come

Ethan Shapiro walks beside the abandoned baseball fields at Chapman Field Park. He peers past the fence and overgrown foliage. Invasive trees have taken over the ballpark, and the field of dreams Shapiro remembers playing on when he was a kid now looks like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. “Look,” he says, gesturing toward the field and shaking his head, “There’s even a tree growing on home plate.”

In 2014, Miami-Dade County discovered that the three Chapman Field Park baseball fields and parking lot were contaminated with arsenic 20-times higher than normal levels. The 483-acre park at the southern end of Coral Gables (of which 51 acres are open, the remaining mangrove forests and saltwater estuaries) was promptly shut down. County officials assured park-goers and baseball lovers alike that the repair and remediation would take only a few months. Instead, it took almost a decade for just one field to be remediated.

One might think the extended closures of the other two fields are due to arsenic toxicity, but Shapiro, the president of the Howard Palmetto Recreational Baseball/Softball League, says it has more to do with bureaucratic red tape.

Chapman Field Park
Location map showing the Chapman Field Park and the Coral Gables boundary


“The reality is you would have to consume bucketfuls of dirt to have arsenic poisoning. I played here growing up as a kid. I had friends that played right next to me, and not one of us has had what I believe to be complications from arsenic,” says Shapiro. “But it’s the law. The county had to fix the fields. I get that. It’s just a shame it’s taken so long.”

Ethan Shapiro, president of the Howard Palmetto Recreational Baseball/Softball League

Immediately after the arsenic discovery, there were plans in action to remediate the three baseball fields. But just before the Miami-Dade County Division of Environmen- tal Resources Management (DERM) and construction company Cherokee Enterprises (CEI) were set to begin the remediation in 2015, Colin Henderson, an environmental consultant for the Capital Programs Division of the county parks department, sent out an email saying to cease all work.

He wrote, “There have been some internal discussions here about the use of the Chapman Field ball field area in that the use of the fields may change. Please hold off any work on the [Corrective Action Plan] until PROS [Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces] decides what future plans are going to be for the park.”

In March 2016, an email chain between CEI and officials at PROS revealed how the plan to restore all three baseball fields at Chapman Field Park had been scrapped in favor of only restoring one and turning the other two into a greenspace. The email chain also detailed plans to remove the batting cages the Howard Palmetto League donated, along with light poles, bleachers, and fences.

When discussed at community meetings, the new plan faced harsh criticism. Parents involved in the Howard Palmetto League argued that the community needed all three fields to host baseball practices and games for all the community’s schools and leagues. After the initial closure of the park, Howard Palmetto League, along with some middle and high school teams, were displaced to other parks, some more than 45 minutes away.

Chapman Field Park
The team is The Brewers (They’re all around 8) And the coach is Josh Carroll.

Following more protests from the community, a plan divided into two phases came out in 2018. Phase 1 would fix one field, while designs for Phase 2 were to be determined later. The community was unsure if Phase 2 would remediate the other two baseball fields. However, at a public meeting in 2018, Matilde Reyes, assistant director of planning, design and construction excellence for PROS said that plans for Phase 2 would not be finalized until the county could gauge public interest.

Between 2018 and 2020, minimal progress was made in Phase 1. Frustrated at the county’s slow pace and indecision, Shapiro founded the Save Chapman Field Park campaign in 2020. He hoped his call to action would push the county to start on Phase 1 and listen to the community’s desire to restore the other two fields.

Remediation on Field 1 finally started in August 2021 and finished in November 2022, nine months later than expected. The remediation involved removing 12 inches of soil from the field, relocating that soil, installing a liner, then replacing the dirt and sod, and installing a new irrigation system. The final cost of the project was $2 million.

Currently, the county has unfinished plans for a second ballfield that it estimates will be completed in Fall 2025 and cost approximately $2.6 million. According to Caridad Mesa, spokesperson for Miami Dade PROS, there is a second ballfield in the works, but “as it is an active project, Miami-Dade Parks is currently still reviewing the design,” she wrote in an email.

Despite the county’s announcement of a second field, Shapiro and other parents involved in the Howard Palmetto League still fear the county doesn’t understand the importance of baseball to the community. “I don’t think there’s any effort from [the county] to steal the ball fields like some people think. But people [don’t] understand the true significance of these two ball fields,” Shapiro says.

Chapman Field Park


The growth of the Howard Palmetto League alone should be enough to communicate  the community’s desire for a quick return of all three of Chapman Field Park’s baseball fields. Since 2019, the league’s enrollment has increased 244 percent, making it the largest recreational league in Florida.

Shapiro says the league has even had to turn away 75 players due to a lack of practice space. “It’s frustrating that there are people out there making a false argument that demand for baseball and softball in the community is low when the demand is clearly there,” he says.

Chapman Field Park

Laura Gray, scheduling chairperson of the Howard Palmetto League, echoes Shapiro’s remarks. “I could fill another field Monday through Friday with night practices, 5 to 9 pm,” she says. “I could possibly fill two fields. That’s how many kids we have and how many teams we have. We’re overflowing with kids that want to be involved in the league.”

For many people, Chapman Field Park and the Howard Palmetto League represent more than just baseball. It’s a chance for the community to engage and grow. Says Ronald O’Brien II, coach in Howard Palmetto’s bantam division: “These kids are making memories that last forever. We’re more than just baseball coaches and baseball leagues. We’re the community.”

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