BATTERY PARK CITY — Play ball!
After years of planning and anticipation, the new Battery Park City ball fields officially opened this weekend, earning cheers from young players and local officials alike.
Unlike the old grass fields — which turned to mud each fall just a few weeks into soccer season — the new $3 million fields on West Street between Warren and Murray streets are made of artificial turf, which is designed to hold up even in the rain and under heavy use.
"It's beautiful," said Elizabeth Moore, 10, a TriBeCa resident who plays in the Downtown Soccer League, as she caught her breath on the sidelines Sunday.
"It feels different. It's more comfortable. The other [field] was stiff."
Moore was one of dozens of Downtown Soccer League players, along with a handful of politicians and community leaders, who celebrated the field's inaugural weekend at a brief ceremony Sunday morning.
Gayle Horwitz, president of the Battery Park City Authority, which built the field, said it is the most sustainable playing field in the country, and possibly even in the world.
The polyethylene grass is recyclable, the lights are energy-efficient and the rainwater that drains off the field will be used to feed nearby plants. Also, rather than using rubber crumbs, the base of most artificial turf fields, the Battery Park City field uses a much more natural material: coconut husks.
"I wish I had fields like this to play on when I was a kid," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told the crowd of soccer players and parents Sunday.
Bill Bialosky, president of the Downtown Soccer League, said kids are already playing better on the new field, which is springier than grass and offers smoother gliding for soccer balls.
Bialosky added that the new field opened not a moment too soon. This year, the parent-run league enrolled a record 1,200 children and would have been hard-pressed to find enough playing space if it weren't for the extended hours and all-weather playing time on the new turf.
The players, too, said they looked forward to finally getting a full season on the new field.
"Last year we missed a lot of practices [because of rain] and we didn't get as good as we could be," said Bennett Wood, 10, a Downtown Soccer League player who lives in the Financial District.
"Now we can play even when it's raining."
While some parents are nostalgic for the more natural grass fields, most said the benefits of the turf's increased playing time outweighed the downsides.
"In a perfect world, it would be grass," said Anne Albright, whose three daughters play in Downtown Soccer League.
"But the important thing is having kids play outside as much as possible."