By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
Some six decades ago, when North Arlington Little League came into being, Councilman Joe Bianchi was among the first kids to test out the diamond on River Road off Hedden Terrace.
“I played for Egan’s Hotdogs,” Bianchi recalled. “It was a state of the art field then.”
Now, however, even with the best of care, the field is showing the wear and tear of constant use every season so the borough is applying for a $50,000 matching grant from the Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund to help restore the dirt and grass diamond.
If the borough is successful – and Bianchi says he has every reason to believe it will – it will have to put up an equal amount of money for the project.
“The field is tired and it needs a makeover,” Bianchi said.
Readily agreeing, Councilman Richard Hughes outlined some of the deficiencies: The backstop is too close to home plate, the infield has sections that dip causing puddling and there are sections of the outfield that are settling.
“We’ve got to move the backstop back,” Hughes said. “Right now, it’s almost up against home plate – the umpire, catcher and batter can almost rub shoulders it’s so tight. We may have to tear down the little building behind the backstop to make more room.”
Elaborating, Bianchi said that Little League field specifications generally call for a distance of 25 feet separation between the plate and the backstop and currently, they’re only “four to five feet” apart. Because the space between the field’s edge and River Road is so tight, the borough may have to settle for a 19-foot differential, Bianchi said.
Additionally, said Bianchi, the amount of infield grass “has shrunk” and “has to be redone.” On the other hand, he said, there’s “too much space” on either side of the first base and third base foul lines. “You need about a foot of dirt on both sides of the line – we’ve got two feet.”
In the outfield, Bianchi added, “the ground is sinking four to five inches – there are roughs, gullies. We have to bring in clean fill and plant new grass seed.” Also, he said, “you need 200 feet down each (foul) line; we’re 40 feet short.”
Bianchi figures it will take one full season to get the job done. “You’ve got to just leave it alone for a year so everything can take hold,” he said.
While that’s happening, he said, the borough is arranging for the North Arlington 10- and 11-year-old Little Leaguers to play at the county’s Riverside Park where Bergen County is in the process of completing upgrades to the fields there.
Meanwhile, the borough likes its chances of landing the Open Space matching grant. “There’s about $160,000 available for South Bergen communities and only a few towns are going to apply for that pot of money,” Bianchi said.
The borough recently negotiated an agreement to pay the county $7,600 in permit fees allowing its recreation teams to use the new fields. So, girls’ softball and boys Little League will resume play there in spring 2014. In the following season, that amount will be cut in half when the borough’s recreation football team is expected to return to its home at Rip Collins Field which the Board of Education will be refitting with artificial turf. Work is expected to begin this month, according to Superintendent of Schools Oliver Stringham.
The Borough Council agreed on Aug. 8 to pay the permit fee costs for the recreation leagues and relieve them of that financial burden. Council President Al Granell, who sponsored a resolution earlier this year to increase borough stipends to the leagues, also endorsed underwriting the permit fees.
“The cost is modest, especially after the first year, and a heck of a lot less than building new municipal fields – even if there was land available, or putting lights on existing fields,” Granell said. “I wanted to be sure that these leagues would not be encumbered in debt to play in [Riverside] County Park.”
Granell credited Bergen County Freeholder Steve Tanelli, the former North Arlington councilman, with helping work out a reasonable fee for the use of the county fields.
Granell and Bianchi thanked Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and Kistner for expediting the park renovations. Said Bianchi: “I’m glad that our children will have first class facilities.”
As part of the same agreement with the county, North Arlington High School and Queen of Peace High School will have the use of the improved fields for free for soccer, softball and other sports, Granell said.
Playing schedules are being worked out with the cooperation of County Parks Director Ron Kistner, he said.