WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Uptown baseball players were given their own field of dreams Thursday as Highbridge Park's only grass covered field opened for the first time after the completion of a $1.5 million renovation.
Local politicians and officials from the Parks Department joined community members to celebrate the reopening during a ribbon cutting ceremony, throwing out several ceremonial first pitches to inaugurate the space.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in Spanish after throwing a pitch, “Esta abierto,” or “it’s open."
"Play ball,” he added.
"This new field is a way of thanking our students for all the hard work they do," said City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who stressed the balance of doing school work before playing ball.
The City Council provided approximately $1.3 million for the field's renovation. The Mayor's office provided the remaining funds.
The project rehabilitated the previously deteriorated field that was once a stomping ground for baseball greats like Lou Gehrig and Alex Arias. According to State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, kids used to encounter broken glass and garbage when sliding into home base.
“Take care of this park,” Espaillat told the dozens of little league players at the event. “Keep it clean, it belongs to you. No football, soccer, bikes, or anything that will tear up this field. In Washington Heights, baseball is king.”
The new field features seating, backstop and dugouts, making way for a new generation of uptown players.
The ballpark was also refitted with new spectator stone seating, fencing, water utilities and an Americans with Disability Act compliant drinking fountain.
And resurfacing of the field reduced the slope on which it sat that made it tough for kids to play ball.
“We’re going to be even better now without that hill,” said Mario Reyes, 12, a Jaybies team little league player from Washington Heights.
The renovation is part of a ten year, $97 million renovation of Highbridge Park that includes the restoration of the landmarked High Bridge.