Outdated Designs and Poor Planning Mean Juniper Baseball Fields are Doomed.

In a rush to build the Juniper Valley Park roller hockey rink, the NYC Parks Department is dooming the upper ballfields (#5, #6 and #7).

The upper ballfields, constructed in the 1960’s, were configured for multiple use. That means for baseball, football, soccer, cricket, concerts, dog walks, picnics…you name it, it ‘s on it. Unfortunately all of these activities quickly takes its toll on fields. Especially those that are not properly maintained.

Unlike most other sports, the game of baseball requires reasonably smooth and level playing surface (hopefully with some grass). Now we all know that park space is extremely limited in the City of New York. Multiple-use fields are essential in many parks around the city. But in Juniper Valley Park there is room for all of the major sports if properly planned. Councilman Tom Ognibene has and will provide the funding to reconstruct the entire park. He has already allocated over $1,000,000 for the lower ballfields, $600,000 for a hockey rink, and is now working on funding the reconstruction of the upper baseball fields, Brennan (football/soccer) Field, the running track and he is adding $500,000 for new play equipment in the children’s play area. But a good chunk of the money has already been wasted and more is about to be wasted on poor design and planning and improper construction. Combine this with an undermanned Parks Department maintenance crew and it is not hard to figure out that the battle is lost before it begins!

Where does the roller hockey rink fit into the picture? The Juniper Park Civic Association was successful in stopping an outrageous plan, put forth by Community Board 5, to place the hockey rink on the corner of Lutheran Avenue and Juniper Boulevard North, across the street from homes. A compromise plan placed it in the upper ballfields (in left field of field #5).

But it was then that Councilman Ognibene announced that he was seeking to reconstruct the dilapidated upper ballfields. The three upper fields are suffering from poor drainage, erosion and almost as many bumps and dips as the Coney Island Roller Coster. Two of the fields are also facing southwest, directly into the setting sun, which of course makes for much less than ideal conditions in the late afternoon.

Last week Parks Department designers unveiled the plan which offers no practice area for hockey players waiting to use the rink. The slope of the land prohibits the construction of a practice area. As a result the players will use any asphalt surface to skate on while warming up. The only available asphalt in the area is the walkways. The spiral plan places the rink on level ground and would offer enough room for a practice area.

As a coach of travelling baseball teams for the last 6 years, I had the opportunity to view baseball complexes in several cities and states across the country. All were designed and used as baseball fields. Most were designed with the infields in the center going out–a pinwheel design, spoke design or spiral design. Other cities and states have found that the center infield layout is the best and only way to properly layout baseball diamonds. All of the fields had irrigation systems. Most had lights.
That center layout style is used in the practice facilities by all Major League baseball teams and is the preferred baseball field layout by municipalities throughout the United States.

Here are a few advantages of the spiral design of the baseball fields:
• The central location of infields allows for easier maintenance.
• The construction of a more efficient and less expensive drainage system (an important consideration for Juniper).
• Better security (since fields can be supervised from a central location).
• Safer playing field – each field is enclosed with outfield fences.
• Would afford spectators the convenience of enjoying several games from a central location.
• Most of the players and spectators watching baseball games are concentrated in the center of the park, at the furthest point away from surrounding homes thus minimizing noise from spectators.
• More efficient use of space (less wasted or dead space).
The spiral (center) design is a more efficient use of space and would allow even more space for the proposed roller hockey rink. Under the spiral plan, the hockey rink would be located much closer to restrooms, and park storage & maintenance facilities.

For whatever reason, the City of New York pays more for capital projects than most municipalities. Wouldn’t it be prudent to spend precious tax dollars on youth facilities that last. Why plant expensive sod without a basic system to bring water to it. Water is the life line of all living things, including grass. Yet the Parks Department has resisted any mention of adding a sprinkler system citing that it is too difficult to maintain. Other cities can do it (and do it cheaper)- why can’t New York City? We’re supposed to be the greatest city in the world yet we can’t even water our parks grass or maintain fields in which we invest millions of dollars.

But perhaps the best reason for considering a new plan for field layout is that the recently reconstructed baseball fields of neighboring parks in the Community Board 5 district have essentially returned to their dilapidated condition within one year of reconstruction. And most regrettably, serious drainage problems exist on at least two fields (#1 & #4) in the just complete $950,000 reconstruction of the lower ballfields at Juniper.

With over 5 million dollars already spent on the reconstruction of baseball fields in Mafera Park, Rieff Park Maurice Park and Juniper Valley Park in the last four years, a new approach must be seriously explored if our children are to enjoy decent quality baseball facilities in the City of New York.

We have consulted with experts in baseball field layout and design including Kevin Surdi, owner of Triple Crown Baseball which operates the New York Mets Youth Baseball Camps. He has wholeheartedly endorsed the spiral baseball field design for Juniper Valley Park.

The spiral design has the overwhelming support of Councilman Tom Ognibene who plans to fund the project.

Juniper Valley Park has the room for football and soccer on Brennan Field. Baseball (and hockey) in the upper fields and mixed use of sports on the lower fields.

However the Parks Department, headed by Commissioner Henry Stern is not in favor of the spiral plan. He was quoted recently being as in favor of mixed use on all parks fields. Well, there goes another million. Perhaps we can persuade him to take a tour of the recently reconstructed baseball fields in the Community Board 5 area.

Seeing is, after all, believing.