Monday, July 14, 2008
The state of kids' baseball in NYC
When they televise the All-Star Game from Yankee Stadium Tuesday, the cameras will show dazzling shots of the team's majestic replacement home rising across the street - the most expensive sports venue in America.
One thing you will not hear from the announcers is how hundreds of South Bronx youngsters have lost their parks and baseball fields so the Yankees can erect a new palace geared to the corporate elite.
"It's been chaos for us," said Tony Melendez, the wheelchair-bound president of the United Youth Baseball League. "I had to cancel 12 teams this year because we had no fields for them to play on. That's more than 200 kids whose summer is ruined."
He manages to keep his younger teams playing at two Little League fields in Franz Sigel Park, but, he said, "we have to rush the games to get in as many as possible each day."
Early this year, he convinced the Parks Department to keep the dilapidated field lights at Franz Sigel Park on until 10 p.m., to get in an extra late-night game every weekday.
Those lights broke down last month.
"The Parks Departments says they don't have the money right now to fix them," Melendez said, "so we're losing more games." When asked about it yesterday, Parks officials said they would "try to expedite" the repairs.
Hundreds of millions to subsidize a new stadium, but still not enough ballfields for neighborhood kids.
That picture you won't see at the All-Star Game.
Bronx kids left out in left field
The bumps and craters that made every ground ball an adventure have given way to evenly graded clay - the very same dirt used at that field a few miles away, Yankee Stadium. The new pitcher's mound is pristine, the dugout benches upgraded and painted, the massive poison ivy patch climbing up the first-base fence a withering brown memory.
John Finck is the president of the Outsiders Baseball Association.
"The infield used to be a lunar landscape," Finck says. "Now look at it."
The new field - just off of Webster Ave. by 204th St. - was officially dedicated Saturday, after a whirlwind construction process that began on July 1 and was completed three days ago. Who says things can't get done quickly in New York City? Of course, it doesn't hurt when you have Nike capital and clout pushing for completion by All-Star weekend, or to have the services of Eve Burton - she's VP and general counsel for the Hearst Corp., and John Finck's spouse - navigating the labyrinth of city bureaucracy.
Allerton Ballfield in the Bronx renovated before All-Star Game