The gates were locked on Friday at MaCombs Dam Field alongside the new Yankee Stadium. That's despite reports the field had opened this week, a year behind schedule and five years after a set of neighborhood baseball diamonds were paved over to make way for a stadium parking lot.
The field, which was also known as Heritage Field and is actually a set of three fields, saw its first action on Monday with a game between Cardinal Hayes and All Hallows high school varsity baseball teams. But the long-suffering residents of the south Bronx neighborhood will have to wait until Saturday to get their first access to the10.8 acres of Kentucky bluegrass, installed where the old Yankee Stadium once stood.
Resident Carlos Juarez stood by a fence surrounding the fields and gave a kind of capsule summary of the difficult history behind the paving of parkland to build the new stadium and the slow replacement of those parks in new locations.
"In the beginning, people refused to support this construction," he said. "They took down the old Yankee Stadium and people were like, 'What are they going to do?' But when they saw the result, they just loved it."
Similarly, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stressed the end result rather than the lengthy and sometimes rancorous process that delivered it.
"Frankly, I think a lot of the rancor was not from the neighborhood but rather from a self-styled park advocate who had it in his head that this was a terrible thing," he told WNYC. "But when you talk to people in the neighborhood about the old MaCombs Dam Park, they knew they were not particularly great. The old MaCombs Dam ballfield was sort of in a pit surrounded by elevated roadways."
The new MaCombs Dam Field will be open from 10 a.m. to dusk and will give priority to teams with permits from the city. But when those teams aren't playing, the public will be free to step on turf where Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio once plied their trade. Blue polymer fiber stitched into the sod marks where home plate once stood. Anyone can straddle it and, in their minds eye, knock a long ball out of the park.