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BY JOSH ROGERS | Play ball!
The Downtown Little League will be able to play this season on the storm-damaged fields in Battery Park City, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced in a statement to Downtown Express, The Villager’s sister paper, on Fri., Jan. 18.
He said after getting help from the New York Mets, the Battery Park City Authority has expedited its schedule to allow about 1,000 Downtowners to play this season.
League president Bill Martino was “very excited” to hear the news.
“I’m elated that Battery Park City changed course,” he said this week, adding that Silver is “our hero.”
The season has been in jeopardy since Superstorm Sandy flooded the turf fields in October.
A Silver aide said the speaker called Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, merely to ask for advice on how to reopen the neighborhood fields more quickly, and was surprised and grateful when Wilpon sent an adviser who worked on restoring the team’s storm-damaged minor league stadium in Coney Island, now known as MCU Park.
Matthew Monahan, the authority’s spokesperson, said the authority was “very appreciative and encouraged by the advice and insights of the Mets’ top turf people.”
He said Dennis Mehiel, the authority’s chairperson, has directed the staff to remove the artificial turf and inspect the drainage system before a contract is awarded to replace the fields.
The authority is expecting bids to repair the fields by Feb. 4 and had originally asked the contractor to do these first two steps after winning the job. It’s not yet clear exactly how many days or weeks this will save, and the authority is not yet saying the fields will be open for the season.
Silver said he has been working “to ensure that the Little League fields are open in time for the upcoming season. The B.P.C.A. has assured me that it has expedited the process of replacing the fields, which will be open sooner than initially estimated.
“I am also extremely pleased that…Jeff Wilpon and the ownership of the New York Mets have graciously offered to provide valuable technical advice to help move this process forward as quickly as possible. I want to thank the Wilpon and New York Mets family for their commitment to the children of Lower Manhattan.”
It’s not yet clear if the fields will be ready to play on Opening Day, Sun., April 7. But whenever the season starts, the opening ceremony now seems likely to be on a Sunday rather than the traditional Saturday to allow the first pitch to go to Silver, who observes the Jewish Sabbath.
Martino said if the season is delayed, 7-year-old players will be able to play for eight hours in Columbus Park, but even with the restoration of the fields in Battery Park City, the oldest division, teens from13 to 16, will still be scrambling for space, since they need a larger diamond.
The Murry Bergtraum field near the Manhattan Bridge will not be restored in time for the season. The league has asked the Hudson River Park Trust to try and find field time on Pier 40, and is also hoping for another high-demand area, Central Park.