For Bronx Science Players, Another Season of Home Field Disadvantage

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Nick Reade is a senior at Bronx High School of Science and co-captain of the varsity baseball team. But that second duty could perhaps be better characterized as “leader of a nomadic tribe.”

Every day after school, Nick, 17, throws a black cap over his floppy brown hair, drapes a duffel bag over his shoulder, then leads a band of ballplayers to venues around the Bronx.

One day they will play a game on a sandlot-like patch in Van Cortlandt Park; another, they will practice in the Bronx Science gymnasium.

Over the past three seasons, they’ve played home games at Randalls Island and Crotona Park, each more than 30 minutes away by public transportation. And this season alone, the team will have five different home fields.

“It’s just annoying to schlep,” Nick said while stretching before last week’s home opener -- an 11-2 win over Grace Dodge Career and Technical Education High School -- at the Van Cortlandt Park Parade Grounds.

Nomadic athletic teams are not unusual in New York City, Department of Education and Public School Athletic League officials say. Thousands of student athletes in the city every year deal with the rigors of traveling long distances for both home and away games (league officials did not provide specific numbers of teams and athletes that travel to home games).

And on this Opening Night for Major League Baseball, hundreds of Little League and school teams in New York City have already clocked hours and miles after school to far-away fields for practices and games.

But the Bronx Science players say their situation is different, because there is a public park across the street, Harris Park, that appeared to be ready for use as a home field this season after being out of commission since 2008 because of construction.

Fresh sod was laid down in late October, creating four sparkling baseball diamonds. Throughout the winter, the schedule on the Public School Athletic League Web site even listed Harris Park as the home field for Bronx Science, the High School of American Studies at Lehman College and a team of players from the several small high schools located on the old Walton High School campus.

But a few weeks ago, on March 8, the parks department informed the Public School Athletic League that the sod would need more time to knit. So for a fifth straight season, the three teams from the nearby schools would be forced to pack travel bags for home games.

“We’ve all been waiting longer than we thought we would,” said Jackson Comstock, a lanky Bronx Science junior who plays outfield. “We were all anticipating the field to be ready.”

After the Bronx Science players learned that they wouldn’t be able to use Harris Park, they attended a Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee meeting to ask the Bronx parks commissioner, Hector Aponte, for help in finding a solution, according to an editorial in The Riverdale Press.

Still donning the sweaty clothes that they had worn to practice, the players asked the parks department to dump a truckload of dirt at Van Cortlandt Stadium, a dilapidated baseball patch closer to school than other public parks. They offered to rake and maintain the field themselves, to help rid the infield of the craters that swallow up ground balls. But they were denied because their solution wasn’t according to protocol.

The meeting was “just a list of the things that the parks department and the city couldn’t do,” Nick said.

The Bronx Science coach, Michael McGrath, a burly, 34-year-old physical education teacher who attended the meeting with his players, said he understood the reasoning behind the Parks Department’s decision to keep the field closed. But he said that it was demoralizing for the team to go another year without being able use Harris Park.

“It’s hard to tell your kids not to play there,” he said. “It’s a frustrating thing.”

In a phone interview, a Parks Department spokesman, Zachary Feder, said that the department anticipates the fields at Harris Park “being open by the end of summer.” In an e-mail, a Parks Department spokesman noted that six of the seven groups that would use the baseball fields there have found comparable hours at other parks.

Mr. Feder stressed that Harris Park’s official opening date is dependent on how quickly the sod knits, meaning the park could be open by late spring.

“It’s such a variable thing,” he said.

The principal of Bronx Science, Valerie Reidy, said she sympathized with the students.

"I just think about their day," she said. "They’re out doing something they enjoy, but the rest of the evening is about 'now I have to get home, then I have to do homework.' They’re saying to Parks, just make our lives a little bit simpler."

In the meantime, players from Bronx Science will continue to clump together in parents’ cars, hop on buses and trains, and lug their gear across the borough this season for home games -- all while staring across the street at four new baseball fields, sequestered behind chain-link fences, waiting for grass to grow. (Other school teams have not been as timid, and have been sneaking through the fence to use the field, further galling the Bronx Science players.)

“It’s been four and a half years since our home field right across the street hasn’t been available to us,” Nick said. “And I’ll never really play a ‘home’ game.”