Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 1 - 7, 2009

Gabriella Marino, 14, broke her ankle sliding into the hard dirt on the Battery Park City fields last season. Parents and league officials also say the new, smaller backstops make it more dangerous for drivers and bikers on West St. and for parents watching the games.

It’s not safe at home, Little League says

By Julie Shapiro

To the list of dangerous falling objects at or near the Battery Park City ballfields — a list that has included a steel plate and a hammer — local parents recently added a new item: baseballs.

The line-drive foul balls that barrel down the first base line have nailed more than one spectator since the Downtown Little League season started several weeks ago, parents said. Little League organizers don’t think anyone has been seriously hurt, but, just as they did when high-rise construction sent materials hurtling toward the field, the organizers are once again calling for safety measures.

“It’s very dangerous,” said Joe Marino, a travel softball coach and member of the league’s board. “A fan could get hit, or a tourist on the sidewalk, or the other team could get hit.”

Another problem with the fields struck Marino even closer to home. Last season, his daughter Gabriella, then 13, was sliding into third base when she shattered her ankle on the rock-hard dirt near the base. Two weeks ago, 16-year-old Alessandra Fusillo broke her ankle, also sliding into third base, though on the other diamond.

Marino compared the infield dirt to cement and said kids often get rashes or burns when they slide. He said the Battery Park City Authority, which is responsible for maintaining the field, should add clay around the bases and rake up the dirt. Leticia Remauro, spokesperson for the authority, said the authority plans to soften the dirt.

The problem of foul balls could be harder to solve. This is the second season since the ballfields were shrunk and flipped to put distance between the players and the residential towers Milstein Properties is building adjacent to the fields. The home plates are now along West St., and the larger, more permanent backstops the league used to have are gone.

Last year, the league placed the bleachers way in the outfield and encouraged parents to sit there or to stand behind the fence at West St. But parents wanted a closer view of the games and consistently sat near the base lines. So, this year, the league moved the bleachers there, along West St., though it is less safe.

“People are going to want to watch their kids,” said Mark Costello, who was president of the league last year. “It’s a community environment. People want to be within 300 feet of their kid. Instead of pushing the parents around, we should simply do something sensible with the fencing.”

After some initial miscommunications, the authority agreed this week to install several panels of fencing along the base lines, protecting the spectators. Tom Merrill, the league president, also moved the bleachers just outside of the primary striking zone for foul balls.

But the best solution, Merrill and others said, would be to have large backstops like the ones the league had before the fields were flipped.

Merrill, Marino and other parents said there are potential dangers for drivers and bikers too since foul balls appear to be landing on the West Side Highway and the new temporary bike path. Larger backstops would also prevent balls from going over the fence, Merrill said. Last year, many baseballs landed in the construction staging area along West St., and Merrill said people would go over to get them back.

The authority has resisted installing larger, more permanent backstops on the field, since they would need to be removed each fall for soccer season until the fields flip back to their original configuration in several years.

Remauro said there have been no reports of balls landing on West St. since the fields were flipped, but she would work with the leagues on their concerns. While it is hard to tell from inside the field where exactly foul balls land on the outside, several parents said they believe balls have landed on West St.

Costello was not satisfied with Remauro’s response and said there are other alternatives, like netting, that the authority has not explored.

“It’s time to get a solution,” Costello said. “It’s difficult for me to believe that it’s just impossible to solve it.”

Remauro said she was working closely with Merrill.

To add one more challenge to the pile, Milstein Properties will be ramping up work at their residential towers this weekend after a slowdown of several months to renegotiate contracts. Milstein will install a crane on the north side of the site on Saturday, said Maria Rosenfeld, vice president of development at Roseland Advisors, which works for Milstein.

Milstein will generally work Monday through Friday but will work Saturdays for big projects like the crane installation.

“We intend on going full speed ahead,” Rosenfeld said.

Merrill sounded optimistic that the safety plans in place for Milstein would work. But, he added, “If work is going on during games, I’m concerned.”






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