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Manhattan Little League Teams Scrambling for Spring Field Space

By Andrea Swalec | February 18, 2013 6:47am

MANHATTAN — Who's on first? And where will first even be come springtime?

With opening day fast approaching, a little league team that serves youth on the west side of Manhattan from 59th Street all the way down to Canal Street is scouring the city for available baseball diamonds as the closure of two Downtown sports facilities puts field space at a premium.

The 120 players age 10 to 12 on Greenwich Village Little League teams still need someplace to play before the spring season starts April 6, as their usual fields at J.J. Walker Park in the West Village are still closed for renovations and the Battery Park City fields remain ruined from Hurricane Sandy damage.

Without the use of their go-to space at J.J. Walker Park on Hudson Street near Clarkson Street, GVLL's co-ed competitive Majors division will have less practice time and will be forced to play on fields scattered across the city, league coordinator Carin Ehrenberg said Friday.

"There's going to be less baseball this spring," she said, noting that her younger son, a 12-year-old pitcher and shortstop, was disappointed he would have to leave his neighborhood to play this year.

GVLL is losing a total of about 28 hours of practice and play time every week, the group's president, John Economou, said.

The league, whose Majors division usually practices seven hours a week, has applied for some field time at the huge sports complex at Pier 40 in the West Village and is still trying to secure space at sites including Randall's Island Park.

Having to commute to games will take away the community feeling of local little league, said Ehrenberg, a clinical psychologist.

"Parents enjoy raising their kids in the city and still being able to provide them with an all-American little league experience," she said.

The Hudson River Park Trust, which manages Pier 40, is trying its best to accommodate as many sports lovers as possible, president and CEO Madelyn Wils said.

The closure of the two Downtown fields has placed more pressure on the pier, putting space at capacity for the spring and forcing the Trust to turn away about 10 applications from youth and adult sports groups.

Wils said the rush on field time underscores the importance of Pier 40 for the park-starved lower west side.

"As the neighborhood grows and more people with families move to lower Manhattan, it puts a lot more pressure on the parks," she said.

If financially troubled Pier 40 were to close its sports fields while repairing its rotting pilings and crumbling roof, thousands of youth and adult athletes would be displaced, Economou pointed out.

"[The closure of Pier 40] would have a severe impact on GVLL and all other programs who rely on these fields," he said. "GVLL would have to completely restructure its baseball program. We [might] even be put in a position where we would have to reduce our program."

More than 1,000 children who were expecting to play little league on the Battery Park City fields are also still in limbo for the spring season, as DNAinfo.com New York reported in January.

Downtown Little League board member Andrew Zelter said Friday he's confident the needed repairs can be made in time.

"We expect to be fully operational at Battery Park City for our 2013 season," Zelter said, adding that the league has booked space at 12 fields across the city, including Pier 40, as backup.

Extensive Hurricane Sandy damage covered the BPC fields with 3 feet of floodwaters and sewer backflow, leaving the turf destroyed.

The Battery Park City Authority is aiming to have the fields open in time for baseball season, but the exact timeline of the work is unclear until the turf-replacement work begins soon, a spokesman said.

Renovations to J.J. Walker Park — scheduled to be complete in June — will replace the synthetic turf, improve striping for baseball and soccer games, repaint bleachers and raise fences to keep fly balls inside the park, according to the Parks Department.

Rich Caccappolo, chairman of Community Board 2's parks committee and a former GVLL president, urged the Parks Department to keep the work on schedule for the sake of little league players.

"Every kid has a couple years of great baseball, and the most serious years are when they're 11 and 12," he said. "Losing a year of that is a shame because you don't get it back."