YMCA’s new field of dreams

Sharlene Brown, the Bronx YMCA’s executive director, in front of the field that is set to get a major upgrade this summer.
Photo by Ben Kochman

Young sluggers at the Bronx YMCA will soon have the chance to swing for the fences on a proper field.

The borough’s only Y branch has landed a $250,000 grant to replace the water-damaged ball fields on its Castle Hill Avenue campus with a sparkling new baseball diamond.

Funding for the new field — which YMCA staff say should be ready for play by the end of the summer — comes from the charitable arm of the Super Bowl Host Committee, headed by the owners of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets, who hosted last season’s big game at Giants Stadium.

The committee’s “Snowflake Youth Foundation” says it has raised more than $13 million to support community programs in New York and New Jersey.

Building a true field

The folks who use the current shoddy field called the funding a home run.

“We will finally have a viable field for our youth,” said Eliezer Rodriguez, who leads practices there and serves on the Bronx Y board of managers. “You really can’t play baseball unless you have a field that’s appropriate for the game.”

The distance from home plate to parts of the outfield is a mere 100 feet, far less than regulation size for organized youth baseball.

A parking lot currently swallows most of what would be left field.

“If the shortstop turns around, the wall is just behind him,” said Rodriguez.

Hitters are forced to step way back in the batter’s box and tilt their stance toward right field, in order to recreate the regulations of a true baseball diamond.

Plans for the new field call for shifting home plate to where right field is now and extending the outfield, which will allow sluggers to take full swings.

Sandy’s wrath lingers

The current field — located on the shore of the East River — also has lingering water damage from Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene.

Grass on the field has yet to fully come back in, after crashing saltwater waves flooded the place with both water and junk.

Staff had to call in numerous Dumpsters just to get the trash out.

“The garbage was endless,” said Sharlene Brown, the Y’s executive director. “Everything that could ever wash up washed up over here.”

The contractor for the new diamond will replant the entire field, said Andrew Bernstein, director of major gifts for YMCA Greater NY.

Plans also call for raising the outfield fences building new bleachers and dugouts.

Staff expects the construction work to take six to 10 weeks, and for the field to be completed sometime this summer.

In the meantime, the day camps that use the fields will have to commute to a local park.

But Y brass say the new digs will be worth the wait.

“Kids are going to love this new field,” said Bernstein.

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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