Vol. 16, No.10    May 8 - May 21, 2003


Coaches Say Field Conditions Hamper Playing


When Raul Flores began coaching little league eight years ago, he knew he'd be carting around bats and other equipment. But he didn't expect to carry a shovel in his car, too.

"I try to patch up the field a bit before the game," Flores said. "It feels like I'm a groundskeeper."

With the season just under way, coaches are rolling up their sleeves to deal with fields they say are in poor condition and potentially dangerous. 

"Saying the fields are in bad shape is an understatement," said Flores, who coaches in the Mosholu Montefiore Communty Center (MMCC) Baseball League. "If you go to most parks with a little league, there's actually dirt. Here, it's rocks and crevices."

Flores and other coaches, while willing to play the groundskeeper role, want the Parks Department to help out with some essentials, like fresh clay and dirt at the beginning of the season, with time to settle, and periodic raking and grass clipping. Keeping the fields level and dry is also key, they say. 

But Dorothy Lewandowski, the Bronx' parks commissioner, defends her agency's record on field upkeep and insists coaches must do their part. "A league that takes the time for maintenance has a better field," she said.

'Sliding and hitting rocks'
Most players in the MMCC League play at Shandler Recreation Area in Van Cortlandt Park, Harris Field near Lehman College, or at Frisch Field on Webster Avenue. All are in the city park system.

On a recent warm evening, the Pirates and the Cardinals -- two MMCC teams -- squared off at Shandler. The field was loaded with determined 10- and 11-year-olds in fresh uniforms. But running to third was no easy task. Because of the misshapen field, the base was in the grass, not the dirt infield.

"They're having trouble sliding into third base with the grass there," said Wellington 
Basora, whose son plays for the Cardinals. "It should be better trimmed aroundthe lines."

Over at Harris, the six diamonds also showed signs of wear. In the recently renovated southeast corner, a ditch yawned where the pitcher's mound should be. Coach Oral Selkridge, an architect by trade, is all too aware of Harris' holes. "Where is the pitching mound?" he asked. "There is no mound."

The game suffers from the field conditions, says Flores. "Kids are sliding and hitting rocks," he said. "There are holes in the infield."

Large puddles amass because of holes and uneven dirt, coaches say. "When it rains, forget it," said Basora, pointing to the back of the infield. "Back there, it's like a lake."

Without adequate dirt and clay, the fields are useless even if there is a sunny day after a heavy rain, according to Chris Pinto, coordinator of the MMCC League. "Two Saturdays ago it rained hard," Pinto said. "On Sunday it was beautiful. But we still couldn't play."

MMCC was forced to cancel 12 games that Sunday alone. Pinto estimates he's scrapped 80 games this and last year because of the puddle problem. 

Nearby fields envied
Flores remembers a time when the fields were better maintained. "I used to know we were getting ready for the season because the mountains of dirt would be on the fields," he said. "I would show up for the first game and it would be manicured and ready to play on."

That was roughly four years ago, according to Flores. The coaches envy fields elsewhere in the borough. 

"Other fields are kept in immaculate condition," Selkridge said. He is particularly envious of a Kingsbridge field on Bailey Avenue, adjacent to the 223rd Street Park.

Over at this field, not a soul was in its grass or dirt on a weekday afternoon. A tall gate featuring a sign celebrating the local little league ensures that only permitted users are allowed. The dirt appeared smooth and fresh.

At Seton Park in Riverdale, the fields were flat, though they, too, lacked a pitcher's mound.

"They keep the grass nice and short," said John Rodriguez, a player from the Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy High School, as he practiced batting. 

Seeking outside help
Flores is bewildered about the disparities in conditions. "I don't know why there is such a difference," he said. "We're paying the same taxes."

A look at two other Riverdale fields may provide some answers. The South Riverdale Little League has a brand new field this year, complete with a trailer for office and storage space. But this field of dreams is the product of private efforts. 

According to The Riverdale Press, Coach Ed Lowe contacted the Parks Department, which had no funding for such a project. So he enlisted the help of a friend and local landscaper, who donated labor and topsoil. And Lowe also chipped in $1,700. 

Another Riverdale field also had a benefactor -- State Senator Guy Velella, who allotted $27,000 for the Sid Augarten Field on Mosholu Avenue last year after coaches buttonholed him for funding. The field now has a solar-powered scoreboard, manicured lawns, covered dugouts and a sprinkler system. (Because of redistricting, Velella no longer represents Norwood.) 

Lewandowski encourages leagues to seek outside funding for renovations. She notes that Riverdale leagues, and others in the south Bronx who use St. Mary's Park, have done this successfully. Often, these leagues also benefit from a groundswell of community involvement that takes on much of the fields' maintenance.

"We would love to partner with other leagues to do this," she said. The commissioner said that MMCC was not one of the leagues which had particularly reached out to Parks, though Pinto said he is in contact with the agency about the fields.

Lewandowski defended the agency's work on the fields, especially with this year's strange weather patterns. Letters were sent to all leagues in the beginning of April informing them of delays in work, she said. "If they had important games, we tried to get to work on that area."

But Lewandowski said that most of the fields in the borough have had some kind of work done on them. Clay was added to Harris and she does not agree that there are flooding problems. 

She did say that puddles are a natural occurrence on the fields. "There is potential for some wear," Lewandowski said. "But any good coach knows that they need to do pre- and post-game maintenance of the clay." 

Both Flores and Selkridge work on the fields before the games, but insist they can only do so much about bigger sources of wear and tear, such as the lack of adequate dirt before the season starts, and an absence of raking and clipping. "You go to most fields, and they are manicured and prepared during the week," Flores said. "We are rearranging the infields because of puddles and holes."

Lewandowski said that coaches should alert Parks with specific problems about specific fields. Pinto says he calls Parks often. "I have been in contact and am working closely with the Parks Department to remedy this serious problem," he said.

In the meantime, Flores worries that the fields' condition deters kids from a lifelong love of baseball. "All the coaches are volunteers, and their main purpose as volunteers is to help the kids have positive experiences," he said. "We can make things as smooth as possible for them. But when you add these kinds of distractions, it makes it really difficult."

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