Field of Dreams?

Ramsay Park has been home to dozens of recreational and competitive soccer leagues, which means the field is used on a daily basis and continues to get worse over the years. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)

The City of Watsonville needs a true soccer complex

The City of Salinas got some good news last week after it received extra funds to help complete a project that’s been 10 years in the making. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom OK’d a State Budget that approved $5 million for the Salinas Regional Soccer Complex. 

According to a press release, the approval is a result of collaboration between Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) and Senator Anna Caballero (D-Salinas). 

The Salinas Regional Sports Authority plans to build a new 22-field soccer complex. The proposed site is 68 acres across the parking lot for Constitution Park.

Other features include a health and training center and stadium seating for 2,000 people along with picnic areas.

“The soccer complex will provide a space for community members to stay physically active, build relationships and enjoy the outdoors,” Caballero said. “This has been a project that I have worked on and supported for many years. Families from all over the region use the soccer field.”

The SRSA estimates the project will be completed in four phases with hopes of starting the first phase in November.

Those phases include renovating the existing grass fields and eventually building an indoor soccer field. The project is expected to cost about $20 million. 

This is beyond awesome and I’m glad to hear the City of Salinas is making an effort to build something extraordinary to keep kids active.

But what about here in Watsonville? 

I know there are plenty of options to play recreational and competitive soccer at Ramsay Park, but that place is far from being a true soccer complex.

The Soccer Central Indoor Sports Arena isn’t the ideal spot either. The building isn’t open during the day in the summer, and it hasn’t been in the best shape since a fire broke out in 2015.


Ramsay Park’s Master Plan will cost an estimated $21.2 million for an improved softball diamond, left, that could also be used as a soccer field — the park’s third pitch. (Courtesy of the City of Watsonville)

Watsonville Director of Parks and Community Services Nick Calubaquib has been holding meetings with community members and conducting surveys at local events to draft master plans for Watsonville’s two historic parks — Ramsay Park and the City Plaza.

Ramsay Park’s Master Plan will cost an estimated $21.2 million for an improved softball diamond that could also be used as a soccer field — the park’s third pitch — and a pump track for mountain bikes that would replace the old skatepark. 

“The plans that we’re sitting on today are based off of what we’ve heard throughout the process,” said Calubaquib to the Register-Pajaronian in a previous interview. “As we collect data our consultants have been adjusting the plans.”

Funding for the improvements would come from state-distributed grants provided by Prop 68, a $4.1 billion bond measure for parks, environment and water approved by voters last year.

Calubaquib said the deadline for the first round of funding is August, but there is no guarantee Watsonville will qualify for funding.

It’s a big concern to know this project is not set in stone but just an idea that’s being tossed around, for now.  

Also, is adding one more pitch to the park sufficient enough to alleviate the large crowds that show up to play soccer, especially during the weekends?

Pajaro Valley United FC coach Ernie Hurtado said there’s extreme field usage at Ramsay Park. He believes the city needs more fields, apart from the new one that’s already being proposed.

“But they also need to be able to have control over the fields or else every field that they have is going to be in the same position,” Hurtado said. 

PV United first started playing in the Watsonville City League 13 years ago. After winning a couple of championships, the team decided to jump to a more competitive league.  

“There’s nothing wrong the city leagues and the (recreational) leagues because that’s where kids start and start developing,” Hurtado said. 

Hurtado said the problem is there are way too many recreational leagues in town that the City of Watsonville doesn’t have control over.

“The talent is more scarce and it’s spread out more,” Hurtado said. “So, they’re not really developing players. Now they’re just trying to keep kids busy.”

Hurtado said it’s also not a bad thing to keep children active but the ultimate goal is to develop the players. He said it would be ideal for the city to gain more control of the scattered rec leagues around town and develop some type of established feeder league.

“Maybe the city can work with local soccer clubs that are already established so that the kids can actually develop from a rec league straight to a more competitive league,” Hurtado said.

Pajaro Valley United FC coach Ernie Hurtado used to have the team compete in the Watsonville City League, which hosted its games at Ramsay Park. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian) 

I recently wrote a story about a group of childhood friends from Watsonville who recently put together a free soccer clinic for kids at Ramsay Park.

So it got me thinking about all the sports clinics or complexes available when I was growing up. The only spot I remember was the old Penny Club, which is now St. Francis High. 

It wasn’t a state-of-the-art facility but it was large enough to host numerous soccer matches at one time.

“The other thing is kids aren’t playing on decent fields,” Hurtado said. “Most of these fields are either full of gopher holes or it turns into a dirt field, not really a grassy field.”

Sergio Ledesma currently coaches in the U-12 league at Ramsay Park. He’s been coming back to the same field for the past 17 years.

The field is currently in fair condition and playable but Ledesma said as soon as it rains, all of the action stops.

“It needs a little bit of maintenance, that’s for sure,” Ledesma said. “It’s not even (leveled) but it’s playable.”  

Ledesma said he’d like the playing field to get leveled out and keep it as a natural grass field, not artificial turf. But, he knows field maintenance is going to be a high cost.  

Ledesma, 43, works for Granite Rock Company and is currently working on the construction project for Pajaro Valley High’s new athletic fields project. The football/soccer field is going to artificial turf. 

Ledesma said he wouldn’t mind turning Ramsay Park into an all-turf field but as long as they get the right company to do the job. 

“As a constructor, when you hire a company, you gotta understand what type of field you’re making,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be cushioned and not something you’re going to build over hard ground.” 

Ledesma said he’s all for the upgrades as long as the money is invested in the right way. Still, he believes Watsonville needs more soccer fields for a city that continues to grow.

“Especially in this sport, it’s growing and we’ve been waiting for more fields for a pretty long time,” Ledesma said.

Ramsay Park’s Master Plan will cost an estimated $21.2 million for an improved softball diamond that could also be used as a soccer field — the park’s third pitch. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)

For me, I think it would be a great idea to have a soccer complex at Pinto Lake County Park, which is a 183-acre regional park.

But that probably means the County of Santa Cruz would have to get involved. And who knows how long it’ll take to get that project up and running? 

I understand how state and local funding works, especially when there are other priorities that need to be taken care of first. 

That’s why the community needs to step up and take action to call for a state-of-the art soccer complex in Watsonville. 

It took the City of Salinas a decade to turn its dream into a reality, but it also came with the help of its community members, including city officials.

They worked nonstop to raise a majority of the funds and in the end received assistance from the state to get the project finally going.

Plus, Hurtado said having a true soccer complex in Watsonville can allow the city to host big time tournaments, which in return draws bigger crowds and brings in more revenue.

“The city has land everywhere,” Hurtado said. “It’s just developing the land and putting something that can be used for multiple sports.” 

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Editor's Note: This article will be published in the July 5 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.

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