McClatchy baseball team finds itself without a batting cage after district tears it down

Six years ago, the baseball booster club at C.K. McClatchy High School embarked on a mission to build a new batting cage.

Players, family members and volunteers – 200 of them – worked tirelessly to raise money for the project, ultimately cobbling together $20,000 in a span of four years. The new batting cage, with its glistening steel beams and green artificial turf, was a point of pride for the McClatchy baseball community when it opened in early 2012.

Now, only weeds and mold remain at the site where 40 of the school’s all-stars spent numerous hours each year honing their pitches and their batting techniques.

District officials tore down the structure in August, calling it a “financial liability,” while arguing that the structure never received the proper approvals. They said the batting cage was not compliant with disability access laws and needed a sign-off from the Division of the State Architect.

“Ultimately, our school board is liable if something bad happens, God forbid,” said Sacramento City Unified School District spokesman Gabe Ross.

But baseball coach Mike de Necochea said the project had the blessing of McClatchy’s former principal, who has since retired. De Necochea and other baseball supporters are upset they were never consulted about the demolition.

“It bothers me to see it like this,” De Necochea said Thursday, looking over what remains of the batting cage.

De Necochea, 46, a McClatchy graduate who has coached baseball for 10 years, said he rushed to the site after the athletic director told him that crews had arrived to dismantle the structure. De Necochea managed to salvage a few moving parts, including a net.

Ross said school officials knew about the demolition plan as early as May.

“Clearly there was an information breakdown. The school knew that the structure had to come down,” Ross said.

But McClatchy High School Principal Peter Lambert said in an interview, “I didn’t find out until they were actually here to remove it.”

The principal said he “requested more information” from the district, but was told that a decision had already been made for the structure to “come down immediately.”

The batting cage controversy came as a surprise to baseball supporters because players and other groups had used the facility without a hiccup for nearly two years.

“Everybody feels bad about the situation,” Ross said.

As for how the baseball team managed to use the structure for about two years, Ross said he didn’t know how that happened.

Bernie Church, the former longtime baseball coach at McClatchy High School, called the entire situation “bizarre.”

“Schools don’t have a lot of money nowadays,” he said. “If somebody didn’t sign the papers, that’s no reason to come out and tear the batting cage down altogether.”

Church built the school’s previous batting cage about 30 years ago in a similar fashion, with volunteers, parents and players. Baseball supporters question why the district rushed to dismantle the batting cage without first consulting the community.

For now, the McClatchy baseball team practices in Land Park. There have been proposals to rebuild the batting cage with bond funds, but discussions are ongoing, de Necochea said.

Lambert, the principal, was more upbeat, noting that a batting cage, permanent or temporary, would be built before the season begins in late February.

Witnessing the batting cage reduced to rubble in a matter of hours was difficult, de Necochea said.

“We did something real good that benefited the students,” he said. “If we’re guilty of that, it’s a shame.”