Downtown Express photos by Ramin Talaie
Liam Galloway enjoys the grass on the new fields.
As Downtown Little Leaguers took advantage of a preview of the Battery Park City ballfields last week, none seemed to be aware that the fight to get the fields began before any of them were born.
Waiting for his turn to bat after the official opening ceremony led by Gov. George Pataki, Miles Schuck, 10, highlighted perhaps one of the least expensive features of the new $6 million fields. Theyre fancy and they have foul lines, said Schuck, who hopes to play soccer on the fields this September. The old fields didnt have lines, so you didnt know if it was fair or foul.
Felix Chmiel, 10, after trying to leg out a grounder said, The fields are good, but they have some faults. He would have preferred sunken big-league style dugouts and dirt base paths between first and third. But then he mentioned some of the things he liked: the scoreboard and the clock.
There are also homerun fences available for the larger field to the south in order to host official playoff games leading to the Little League World Series. The north field is a little too small for these games.
The old fields were considered temporary and were slated to be the site of the last apartment buildings in Battery Park City. The Battery Park City Authority agreed to put in temporary fields, basketball and tennis courts 11 years ago, said Tim Carey, the authoritys president and C.E.O. The fight to make the fields permanent ended at the beginning of 2001, when the city, the authority and Community Board 1 agreed to make the fields permanent and build two apartment buildings at the west end of the sites bounded by West St., Murray St., North End Ave. and Warren St.
The preview party was June 26 and then the fields were closed for a week to make the last adjustments. They are set to permanently open July 1.
The project was delayed twice once because the city used the fields to park World Trade Center recovery vehicles in the months after the 9/11 attack, and once because the wet November weather delayed the laying of the sod.
Weve endured two years of scatter-site baseball fields and next April well have a big opening day party, said Vito Suppa, president of the Downtown Little League. You cant find a better field anywhere. Kids never get to play on top-quality fields.
The fields designers, Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum, have also designed Camden Yards in Baltimore as well as stadiums for the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees. The natural grass in B.P.C. requires no pesticides.
Suppa said there were many parents who wanted artificial turf because it recovers quicker from rainouts, but he was glad the authority chose grass and is committed to maintaining them well.
He and other coaches are concerned that the spectator area is too close to the players benches. Carey said national Little League leaders will be coming from Williamsport, Penn. to examine the fields and recommend any changes to the spectator area.
Tessa Huxley, executive director of the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy, which will maintain the fields, said they are open to any suggestions about the spectator area, but she doesnt anticipate there will be any changes. Its hard, she said. Theres not a lot of room to place it somewhere else.
The residential buildings to be built adjacent to the fields will include an elevated spectator area and a large indoor recreation center, but the two buildings will not be built for a few years.
Huxley said the drainage on the fields is very good, but the conservancy wont know how long they will have to wait after a rainstorm until it is tested. The fields will have to close at least a week a year to convert from baseball and softball diamonds to soccer. She said it will take at least a few days to dig out the pitchers mounds and replace them with grass and it will take at least that long to put the mounds back.
The fields will be used by Downtown Day Camp and corporate softball leagues this summer, the Downtown Soccer League and others in the fall, and Downtown Little League and others in the spring.
Pataki, who, like his old friend Carey, grew up near Peekskill, N.Y., marveled at the fields. Tim and I were saying man we would have loved to have fields like this as kids, he said.
Every week this great part of the greatest city in the world gets a little better, Pataki said.
Madelyn Wils, now the chairperson of Community Board 1, said it was about 14 years ago that she noticed the growing number of toddlers crawling around Washington Market Park, and knew residents had to fight for field and park space in Battery Park City.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who played a key role brokering the ballfield deal with the authority, attended the ceremony, as did several other local politicians involved in the effort, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Sen. Martin Connor, Councilmember Alan Gerson and former Councilmember Kathryn Freed.
Two heroes from the 1969 Miracle Mets, Ed Charles and Art Shamsky, Joan Hodges, the widow of Gil Hodges, the teams manager, were also on hand for the celebration. (Pataki and Silver, who just completed one of the most contentious sessions in Albany and did not acknowledge each other in their remarks, agreed that Hodges, the Brooklyn Dodgers Gold Glove first basemen, belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Silver told Mrs. Hodges that he still has his first mitt a first basemans glove that he got because he idolized her husband.)
Wils seemed to pick up on the Dodger fans famous battle cry, wait til next year when she addressed Suppa and Don Schuck, the head of the Downtown Soccer League, saying someday the leagues tournament teams will be able to advance in inter-league play.
Were going to be champions one day right Vito and Don, Wils said.