No Room for Bronx High School at Yankee Stadium's Former Space
CONCOURSE — After a six-year wait, high school baseball coach Danny Hughes was eager to bring his team onto the pristine, $50 million public ball fields built in the footprint of the old Yankee Stadium.
But when Heritage Field finally opens next month, replacing public diamonds the city bulldozed in 2006 to clear a space for the new Yankee Stadium, it will offer space to two local Catholic schools and one public school — but not Hughes’ sluggers, who are based just down the street from the stadium.
“I don’t understand why they can’t assign me a field when my school is right there,” said Hughes, who coaches the Jaguars at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice on East 163rd Street, less than a half-mile from the field.
He said he was given his home game field assignment — an inferior, rock-filled spot a mile-and-a-half away — in December, and that his attempts to get the Parks Department and the Public School Athletic League to reconsider were shot down last month.
“I just want a fair shake," he said, “I haven’t given up hope. But I’m realistic.”
The PSAL, which coordinates field time in conjunction with the Parks Department, referred calls about the field time to the Department of Education.
A DOE spokeswoman said Hughes was mistaken, and said the PSAL had allotted time to the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice.
But she would not say on which dates or times the school had been given field space, and she could not explain why the time did not appear on the PSAL’s online schedule or why Hughes was told that his team was not given any space to play at Heritage Field.
“Teams are assigned to public fields in their general geographic area based on two things, preference and availability," the DOE spokeswoman said.
She added that teams are given preference for the fields where they played during the previous season, unless those fields are unavailable or the teams request a field change.
A Parks Department spokesman said that the city had so far scheduled playing time this spring for eight youth and adult teams to use the three diamonds at Heritage Field, out of about 25 groups who applied.
Any organized teams can ask for a permit from the Parks Department to use the city’s public ball fields. Teams with adult players must pay $12.50 an hour, while teams whose members are under 18 play games for free.
At least three neighboring high schools have been issued time at the field so far, according to the Parks Department.
Two all-boys parochial high schools, All Hallows and Cardinal Hayes, have been allotted 18 games each on the new Heritage Field, the schools confirmed.
Both schools had used the previous fields — called the Macombs Dam Park at the time — before they were demolished to make way for the new Yankee Stadium.
The PSAL also scheduled four varsity home games at the new field for the Mavericks — the team that hails from the city's Mott Haven Educational Campus, which draws players from four public schools housed in a building near 156th Street, according to the PSAL calendar.
Robert Rosario, head coach of the Mott Haven Educational Campus Mavericks, said he started last September asking his school’s athletic director to request Heritage Field from the PSAL scheduler. The school was created last year and had never played on the Yankee Stadium fields before.
“We kept early on putting a bug in her ear that we wanted Heritage Field,” said Rosario.
When Rosario found out his team would play half of their home games at the new field, he was ecstatic.
“The fields are brand new. The grass is greener,” said Rosario. “And also, it’s right next to Yankee Stadium — and who wouldn’t want to play next to the Big Boy?”
Hughes, on the other hand, said that when he received his field assignments in December he went to the Parks Department's Bronx office to request at least a few home games at Heritage.
This month, after many more phone calls and emails, Hughes said, a PSAL representative informed him that his team would not get any games at Heritage.
Instead, Hughes’ team is scheduled to play most of their home games at Rainey Park.
Hughes and his players played on the Rainey Park last year, but said the condions were so bad, they feel unsafe to keep playing there.
“It’s the worst in the city. It’s rocky and lumpy,” said Jaguars shortstop Brandon Clemente, 16, a junior at the school.
Clemente said he was hurt last season during a game.
"Sliding into second one time I hit a rock," he said. "It cut a hole in my pants.”
Hughes added that Rainey Park’s infield dirt is painfully hard, while its outfield is pocked with holes.
He also said the park surrounding the ballfields attracts people who use it to smoke pot a short distance from his players.
The Parks Department spokesman said that before each baseball season a "specialized ball field crew" prepares each field, which includes removing rocks from the infield and grading the outfield.
Hughes added that perhaps the worst aspect of playing home games at Rainey Park is that the half-hour commute via subway or bus to get to the fields means very few classmates come out to show support for the Jaguars at their home games.
“We might get like 10 kids at our games” at Rainey Park, the coach said. “But if we played at [Heritage Field], there’d be like 100 kids.”