M. Terry / SFVS

Yasiel Puig makes an autograph seeker happy during the groundbreaking ceremonies at Pioneer Park.

When Major League Baseball star Yasiel Puig and his Wild Horse Children’s Foundation announced a desire to refurbish Pioneer Park in the City of San Fernando last year in April, Puig figured it wouldn’t take long before coming back to the Valley to admire the finished product.

“I thought we’d have this done 6-7 months ago,” he said with a slight grin.

However, restoration projects like the one Puig was proposing for Pioneer Park don’t always happen quickly. So when Puig came back to the City of San Fernando for a ceremony on Monday, June 24, there were shovels and hard hats instead of balloons and confetti.

It was a groundbreaking ceremony.

That is still progress. 

“We’ve been working to get going as soon as possible. But it’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of things we need to do legally in this country,” said Puig, addressing the media in both English and Spanish.

“Little by little, we’re getting to the point where we want to be. We wanted to open quick, but we also want to do a good job. Then everybody’s going to be happy — all the families and kids in the San Fernando Valley. All the kids can come here and enjoy what we’re going to build here.”

The renovation project is a partnership between the City and the foundation. The foundation initially announced it was committing between $750,000 and $1 million to support the revitalization. City officials are seeking funding through state grants.

Pioneer is one of seven parks in the City of San Fernando. It’s listed as having two baseball fields, an outdoor basketball court and two outdoor tennis courts, along with a playground, picnic and public barbecue areas and a concession stand.

But the underutilized facility is in need of help. A study released by the Los Angeles Countywide Comprehensive Park & Recreation Needs Assessment in 2016 had put the repair costs of the baseball fields at $94,000, the replacing of the playgrounds at $500,000, and rated the tennis courts, picnic areas and restrooms as being in “poor” condition.

“The playground has been in poor condition for some time now,” said Julian Venegas, director of Recreation and Community Services. “The City had also conducted a study as part of its Master Plan, and many of the amenities that Wild Horse Foundation wants to do have also been identified by the San Fernando community as needed.”

Also on the property is a house that at one time was used for pottery classes and Boy Scout meetings, but was abandoned more than 10 years ago.

Converting that dilapidated home into a viable community community center — to become known as “Puig’s House” — is part of the vision. And the playground would be upgraded to adhere to safety and accessibility standards to ensure that the equipment is readily accessible and usable for children with disabilities.

Venegas said “there is no specific timeline” for the completion of the total park makeover.

“It all depends on whether [the City] secures the additional funding,” he said. “We are applying for the Statewide Park Development and Revitalization Grant, under Prop 68. We’re not guaranteed we will get funding but we are applying for those funds. Right now that’s the fund that is out there. There are several grant-funding cycles coming through. As soon as they become available, we’ll apply. If we’re unsuccessful now, we’ll keep applying for other funding.” 

“They have the funding for the house — just for the renovation,” Venegas said. “And it should take anywhere from three to six months to complete once all the particulars [of the project] are taken care of. And the timetable for its completion is on the Wild Horse Foundation and its contractor.

“We have a lease agreement with the foundation to do the renovation. Once they get started, it will take three to six months depending on the scope of the work.”

Lisette Carnet, the foundation’s executive director, spoke about the project’s progress via email. 

“There are a lot of pieces to this project and we do not know the amounts that will be spent,” Carnet said. “We do know that this is a long term project, and expect this to be a heavy investment on behalf of the Wild Horse Foundation indeed.”

Other insiders with knowledge of the project but not authorized to speak publicly, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that there were “delays on both sides,” and that “while Puig has held impressive fundraisers at Dodgers Stadium and called upon those he knows to bring money to the table, the city is also supposed to raise money from the business community.” 

A lot more has happened to Puig professionally since last year. The standout athlete from Cuba was a member of the Dodgers, who had signed him to a seven year, $42 million contract in 2013. But Puig was traded to Cincinnati after last season despite helping the Dodgers reach a second straight World Series.

The Reds were in the Southland this week to play an inter-league series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Monday was an off-day for the team, enabling Puig to come to San Fernando.

Before grabbing a shovel and posing with a scooped-up pile of dirt during the groundbreaking,  Puig did much of the same things he did last April. He talked about helping and inspiring kids and underprivileged families, toured the park and abandoned house, signed every autograph request, and took endless selfies with the wide assortment of parents and kids that had lined up to see him.

He also met with a youth baseball travel team that practices in San Fernando, a team he is financing (at $1,200 a player) to participate in a weeklong tournament in Cooperstown, NY, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Even if the pace of the refurbishing project may be slower than he expected, Puig said he is determined to see the project completed.

“I promised myself and the San Fernando community that I would be here for all you guys,” said Puig, who addressed the media in both English and Spanish. “They have given a lot of love to me here. I love this city, and that’s a reason I want to give something back.

“I want to bring more people to the San Fernando City. I hope more [athletes] like me that have a lot of income or nice jobs, help make the city better.”

It is his desire, Puig said, for the Pioneer Park project to be a model for future renovation and reclamation efforts in other cities.

“To open more, I need to have one,” Puig said. “This is going to be the first one because I played [in the Los Angeles area] the last seven years here. But we are excited to keep opening other houses around the United States….A lot of people come to the baseball stadium and support me and my teammates. We need to give the love back to the fans who support us.”