Soccer, baseball interests clash over Maspeth park redesign
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 13, 2016 | 11948 views | 2 2 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The most recent redesign of the ball fields at Frank Principe Park were presented to Maspeth resident Tuesday night.
The most recent redesign of the ball fields at Frank Principe Park were presented to Maspeth resident Tuesday night.
Maspeth community members and park users met for the third time to discuss the future of the ball fields at Frank Principe Park, which are set to be upgraded for the first time in 25 years.

Dozens of locals attended the session Tuesday night at Maspeth Town Hall to see the new field redesign, presented by members of the Parks Department and consulting architecture firm Abel Bainnson Butz.

The new renderings show a soccer field on one side of the park and two softball/Little League fields on the other. The reconstruction will include a new perimeter fence and park amenities, such as shaded areas, benches, bleachers and drinking fountains.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who secured $5.7 million for the project, said she’s been hearing a lot of requests for changes to the recreation fields.

“Since I’ve been in the council seven years now, I’ve heard a lot of about getting money to invest in getting the field more usable,” Crowley said. “I’m grateful that this is going to be a significant renovation for the people who utilize the ball fields, mostly Little League and softball, as well the possibility of opening up to soccer, which is a growing demand in the borough and certainly within the district I represent.”

The latest design has a 16-foot fence between the softball fields and the soccer field to prevent balls from flying over.

“This is a safer alternative for the two fields,” said Peter Crawford, a landscape architect for Abel Bainnson Butz. “This is the schematic we’re pushing for now. As designers, we feel this is the most appropriate.”

Some locals pushed back against the design, again citing concerns about displaced sports leagues with nowhere to play. Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, who attended the meeting, said 90-feet softball and adult baseball leagues would be relocated.

She added that she would work with individual leagues to accommodate their space needs.

Frank Orlando, who has coached baseball at St. Adalbert’s School for 20 years, said he doesn’t think two sports can be played at the same time.

“Can’t have both at the same time,” Orlando said. “I just don’t think it works out that way.”

Orlando suggested having a separate park designated for soccer and a park just for baseball or softball.

“I feel that from my experience – I’ve been playing baseball since five years old, I’ve been coaching for 20 years, I’ve been running the organization for seven years – that anytime you’re mixing, that’s where the problem is,” he said. “Have a designated spot for soccer. That’s a soccer field, that’s it. Separate fields in a separate area.”

For many coaches and people who run youth or adult leagues, one particular problem has been recreational park users who play on the fields without a permit. That’s an issue Orlando has encountered at Big Bush Park in Woodside.

“A lot of times, you have adults there playing soccer and they don’t want to leave, even with the permits,” he said. “I have to fight with them. I don’t want to fight and argue in front of the kids. That defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish to begin with.”

Timon Kalpaxis, youth director of the Middle Village soccer club Blau Weis Gottschee, said there’s already a lack of soccer pitches for his kids to play on.

“Because soccer is a relative new arrival here, we’re fighting to find any place to play,” Kalpaxis said. “We are from the community, we’ve got nowhere to go.”

After yet another tense debate about the merits of having two sports played at once, the majority of attendees voted in favor of the Park Department’s latest design.

Steve Fielder, the Parks Committee chair for Community Board 5, said his committee will meet with the Parks Department. After, they will make a recommendation for the entire board to vote on.

Orlando, faced with the possibility of losing the baseball fields, said someone was eventually going to be displaced.

“It is what it is, I think we’re going to wind up losing these fields,” he said. “Instead of making everyone unhappy, can we find a solution to make everyone happy?”

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January 19, 2016
The issue here is going to be with people who are not from the community. The soccer fields are going to be taken over by outside people. I see it all over queens, sad but true.
January 14, 2016
I have noticed in several Queens Parks the same clash, and in many cases when there is sharing over the week the baseball interests seem to win out, forcing a larger number of soccer players from the field. I am thinking of St Michael's park, for example.

By not having sufficient space and not managing this issue more intelligently the Parks Department is impacting people's recreational behavior and fitness in a negative way. They could choose to post the schedule of field use on the website or on an app, so younger players that use these technologies could better know if the fields are free or not.

The model that has developed over the years is unfortunately a "pay to play" model that privileges certain groups over others. What can address these tensions is more space and a further development of schoolyards for community use. There is a small city program meant to promote this dual use but it is not well known or developed.