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Run-Down Astoria Baseball Field Is Unsafe and Needs Overhaul, Players Say

 Coed softball league Astoria Social says Whitey Ford Field is uneven and filled with holes.
Coed softball league Astoria Social says Whitey Ford Field is uneven and filled with holes.
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Facebook/Friends Of Whitey Ford Field

ASTORIA — A rundown baseball field on the neighborhood's waterfront is pocked with holes and divots — causing players to trip and injure themselves and sending ground balls flying in every direction, locals said.

Astoria Social, a coed softball league with about 300 players, is campaigning for upgrades at Whitey Ford Field, a baseball diamond along the East River at 26th Avenue and Second Street that's "in a terrible condition," members said.

"People were twisting their ankles, hurting their knees, because the ground is totally uneven," said league member Sam Schachter, adding that they use the field for games between April and November.

The field also turns to mud after it rains, and players have been hit in the face by errant balls bouncing off its irregular surface, he said.

"You usually are able to predict where [the ball] is going, but because this field is muddy and there's like divots in it and it just hasn’t been maintained, the ball flies like totally out of control," Schachter said.

"The city maintains it by mowing the lawn, but it almost doesn't even matter," he added. "There really needs to be digging and re-leveling."

Whitey Ford Field — named after the famous Yankee pitcher in 2000 and previously known as Hellgate Field — was upgraded last year with energy-efficient lighting, according to the Parks Department.

But a total overhaul — including leveling the lawn, as well as adding new soil, grass, dugouts, water fountains and drainage control — would cost an estimated $2 million, spokeswoman Meghan Lalor said.

The city has yet to allocate any funding for such a renovation, so Schachter and his fellow players are trying to draw attention to the site in the hopes of drumming up some money on their own.

They attempted to get a renovation included on Councilman Costa Constantinides's participatory budgeting ballot, which lets residents pick local improvements to fund, but those projects are capped at $500,000.

The councilman said he's aware of problems at the field and called repairs there "a big priority."

"It has a lot of history in our neighborhood — it provides an opportunity for many groups to play," the politician said, adding that he hopes to allocate some of his discretionary funds toward upgrades at the field. 

Schachter and his group are also hoping local developers might chip in for the project.

There are two massive developments — Hallets Point and Astoria Cove — planned for the peninsula where the ball field is located.

"This is an area where the ferry is projected to stop, so we know there's a lot of real estate interest in this site, so it makes sense for them to beautify it," he said.

But it's uncertain if either Hallets Point or Astoria Cove will be completed after the demise last year of the state's 421-a program, which offered tax breaks to builders.

Astoria Cove, which would bring around 1,700 new apartments to the waterfront, was also slated to include a new comfort station for Whitey Ford Field. But the future of the project is up in the air without the revival of 421-a or something like it, developer John Mavroudis previously told DNAinfo New York. 

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Real Estate Board of New York reached a deal to revive 421-a in November, though the state Legislature has yet to approve a new program.

For now, Schachter says he and others are organizing a Friends of Whitey Ford Field group to host cleanups and other events to improve the space.

"We know that this is really a hidden gem," he said. "We're really just concerned with making the field safe."