(New York, NY - WNYC) It's been a long wait for a South Bronx neighborhood that heard promise after promise about how parkland that became parking garages would one day be replaced. That day is now here.
Five years after the city of New York allowed a heavily used set of baseball diamonds to be paved over for a parking lot serving the new Yankee Stadium, a set of replacement fields has opened--a year behind schedule. In the meantime, those garages have remained mostly empty on Yankee game days and, as TN has reported, the company that owns them is on the verge of default.
The field, which was also known as Heritage Field and is actually a set of three fields, saw its first action last week with a game between Cardinal Hayes and All Hallows high school varsity baseball teams. For years, the teams have been playing "home" games on opponents' fields while waiting for the new fields to open.
Neighborhood residents had to wait until Saturday to get their first access to the 10.8 acres of Kentucky bluegrass, installed where the old Yankee Stadium once stood. Standing outside the new Heritage Field, South Bronx resident Carlos Juarez said his neighbors have gone through a range of emotions as they waited for the former parkland to be replaced.
"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.
"When you talk to people in the neighborhood about the old MaCombs Dam Park, they knew they were not particularly great," Benepe said. "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.