Buss Reports Features Softball & Baseball Field Issues
On July 29, Buss Reports published an excellent investigative report regarding the reconstruction of sports fields throughout Manhattan, and its impact on baseball and softball leagues. They interviewed several of our members including Pauline Gambuto of EDSO Sports, Steve Jimenez of Gotham City Sports and Al Morales of Yorkville Sports about the fields at Frederick Douglass and Dewitt Clinton.
They also visited the fields with Mr. Morales. Here's a video of the field visits:
Click here to read the article!
Letter from Al Morales to UAA Members
Dear UAA members and friends:
Here’s an update as to where we are with parks. I took the advice of several of our law firms and for the last nine months I have flooded both parks at its highest level and the city council and their president with request to meet with softball and baseball organizers in order to better understand their plans for our community.
I’ve come to some realization that the City Council and its members are much too busy moving larger issues and city projects forward than to get caught up in our problem with the permit office and Manhattan Borough Commissioner Castro. It’s been clear to me from the beginning that it has been the permit office and Mr. Castro who have been reducing permits for some established leagues while increasing the number of permits issued to startups. Some recent startups have hired lobbyists and are now using permits previously used by our and other long established leagues.This current Manhattan commissioner, who’s been around for some time, has proven over the years to be unfriendly to the softball and baseball community. As you know, this fight is for fair access to the NYC parks ball fields we’ve used to service the general public and our players, some of us for decades. The fact is we need complete transparency and since at this time recreational leagues are now an industry, we need an independent oversight body to properly identify field space and available time slots.
This past Fall, as some of you know, the permit office removed my Fall league from Dewitt Clinton field on Thursday nights which would have been our 35th season. They came up with a new rule claiming that softball is no longer a fall sport and that there is a field shortage and they needed to accommodate other sports on softball fields. They displaced 300 of our players to accommodate 16 people to use a third of fields #2 and #3, rendering field #1 unusable.
It turns out there was no field shortage and it was just that the 16 people who deprived us of the fields didn’t want to travel north to available fields. They wanted our fields and got them. Who do they know? This was done completely against park rules and regulations. Since there was no field shortage these new rules which we feel were rushed through the city rules governing body just as a tool to displace long established leagues didn’t really apply and we should not have been kicked off Dewitt.
For the past 10 years this commissioner has tried, in most cases unsuccessfully, to remove us from fields we've been scheduling on a very long time. On several occasions we successfully stopped him in his tracks. One time the first deputy commissioner did not approve of what he was attempting to do and ordered him to return our permits.
That has not deterred him from continuing his assault; his most recent tactic was to tell us the youth leagues needed our time. We fell for that in 2017, and without any push-back gave up our 40 years on Jefferson Field #2 for what we thought was Harlem Little League Baseball. We’ve been able to confirm that the field has been sitting idle for two entire seasons. Harlem Little League never requested or used the field. We’re demanding they be returned to us so those that have been deprived from playing can get back on the field.
In addition to complete transparency, we need to know why the permit office is taking fields offline and leaving them idle while claiming there’s a field shortage.
Though we’ve received most of our permits there are a few fields they are again holding back and are not telling us why. Every season for the past 5 or more
they’ve removed us from one or two fields and then try to invoke what appears to be another new rule. If you lost a field for whatever reason you cannot reapply for it as a returning league the following season. (I’m guessing that includes if you lost them by lies and deception.)
Again, what is needed is complete transparency. Since the City Council, as the oversight body, is taking no action YSA has to do so. We need an accurate accounting of available fields — who’s on them and why some leagues are being replaced by others.
During the past several years, the Parks Department has been systematically denying some leagues access to ball fields for softball denying permits to hundreds of softball players for no good reason and keeping some fields idle. In addition, their recent practices (e.g. locking the restrooms during YSA permit slots this Fall season and reopening them right after our season ended) clearly rise to the level of harassment. We are demanding complete transparency and the end to the harassment and bias.
At this point, our only open avenue of recourse is to the courts. As mentioned above, we have pursued all other options, appealing for the past 9 months directly to parks commissioners and the City Council with no response. The law suit will be brought by the United Athletic Association, a not-for-profit advocacy association. Please go to https://uaasports.org/ and make a donation to our Legal Fund. The Donate button is on the page and so is our petition. Please ask your players to sign it and help with a donation. The city council responds to numbers.
The softball baseball community is not going anywhere. The law and park rules are on our side and it's simply time to stop the harassment, bring the recent illegal practices to light, demand complete transparency and a return to an ethical process.
All the best this season.
Adolfo Al Morales
Chairman United Athletic Association.
October 31, 2018; Email from Yorkville Sports Association to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson
Dear Speaker Johnson,
I am following up on an email I sent to you in August regarding the above referenced matter. I realize you and your staff have numerous important projects that you are undertaking to improve the quality of life in New York City, so I apologize in advance for taking your time and adding this one to the list. However, this is a matter that currently affects thousands of New Yorkers, and if left unchecked will affect thousands more.
We have been advised at this point by the office of your Parks Committee to bring this back to your attention.
It appears we have taken this situation as far as we can with them. Since we first contacted you we have found out, through our non-stop persistence, that the Parks Committee actually met with members of at least three soccer organizations* and First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh in April and it appears that at the meeting they determined the fate of the long-standing productive use of the ballfields at Dewitt Clinton Park. Please see: https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3478750&GUID=B70D29F7-6952-4D91-BD91-955714D2E70E for meeting documentation.
Our videos (referenced below) speak volumes of the damage done. The images on some of these videos takes me back to the seventies when most park fields were either idle or underutilized and in disrepair. Fields are idle, underutilized and being ruined. It really saddens me to see this happening. How is it that we appear to be going backwards at a time when the city is bursting with league play and has been for decades now?
It is disingenuous for the Manhattan Permit Office to use information presented to them by a few organizations, representing only their version of what they claim to be a shortage of field space, without soliciting input from other organizations that would be (and have been) affected by what was presented at that meeting.
We are able to prove that the permit office has been taking fields offline that were actively used, sometimes using the names of youth organizations and defunct businesses to prevent softball and baseball leagues from using them. They removed our softball league from a field we had been using for 35 plus years, claiming a youth group was in need. In reality, they gave the time to an adult kickball league. We were able to confirm that the kickball league opted not to use the time, leaving the field idle for the entire 2017 and 2018 seasons while our players and league struggled to finish our spring season.
On October 15, we videotaped an empty field at Harlem River Park in Manhattan listed on the park permit site as being used by Manhattan Indoor-Outdoor Sports for softball (please see: https://youtu.be/KTP9tSDkLZQ) . The field was empty until a handful of soccer players showed up at about 8 p.m. and began warming up on the sidelines during time allocated for softball.
There is something else happening here, other than unconfirmed field shortages and youth in need of time. It’s hard to accuse anyone of targeting you, but we have copious documentation and videos that confirm what we are alleging.
The truth is that the permit office has been doing a horrible job for years of tracking available open time slots. Rather than conducting a detailed analysis of open unused time and usage patterns, they have elected to take the easy road, choosing “solutions” which serve their biases. Simply determining that some groups have too much time and that it would be easier to remove active players, regardless of how successfully and productively the time is used.
They opt to use the complaints by these other groups as gospel to justify disrupting and dismantling an established and vibrant sport in the most popular locations in the city leaving unused fields in less convenient locations idle.
For more than four decades, various organizations like mine have been promoting and organizing baseball and softball leagues in New York City and have enjoyed a strong working relationship with Commissioners and personnel at the Parks Department, ensuring that idle fields owned by the city were readily available for the sport to thrive and expand.
Baseball and softball represent the most diverse cross-sections of the local population in terms of age, gender, ethnic background, economic background and sexual orientation of any sport or recreational activity. Tens of thousands of residents rely on it as their principal, and in many instances, only form of recreation and exercise, and hundreds of local business rely on it for company morale and team building. Additionally, local restaurants, bars and shops count on the patronage of players after the games. Clearly, no one is excluded from the softball community, which is why it has grown to the point where we have more players and teams than there are fields to play on during the Spring and Summer.
Unfortunately, as this community has grown, the Parks Department has initiated plans to provide fewer opportunities for baseball and softball players. They are granting permits to other recreational activities, most of which are in less demand, and all of which involve significantly more (and costlier) maintenance and repairs to the baseball and softball fields, while other fields created specifically for those sports sit idle.
We have lost the use of one of the most heavily used field locations, Dewitt Clinton, on Thursday nights, displacing more than 300 softball players in our weeknight leagues to accommodate fewer than 20 soccer to players for practice. Please see our video: which shows both the damage to the surface of the field caused by dragging and mounting the soccer goals and the current underutilization of the ballfields. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S0m1hZOJ8M&feature=youtu.be
Please note that the video documents a soccer practice, no officials, not league play. Please contrast that underutilization of the park with this video, showing full use of the fields by hundreds of softball players. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA50PUAFxjQ&feature=youtu.be
The Parks Department has been insensitive to the softball community and particularly to our league. In fact, the more we protest and question their actions, the more they dig in their heels against us and act punitively.
By removing us from Dewitt Clinton with no justification on Thursday nights this fall, they have created a shortage that did not exist prior and puts us in danger of not being able to complete our fall season. They did the same thing during our spring season. We checked the park site and found additional open time. We requested it, and the response was that it is taken they just haven’t officially assigned it yet.
They are denying us fields even when fields are available. We’re unable to reschedule rain outs and are once again facing the possibility of not being able to finish our fall season. All the signals they are sending tell us that we won’t be given the chance to get our permit extensions.
In an even more alarming turn of events, they are specifically targeting our players, making the decision to close the park restrooms at 6 p.m.until November. Two weeks into our fall season the restrooms were suddenly closed without prior notice. After we emailed our complaint we received a response informing us that the restrooms will closing at 6 p.m.and will reopen during November. Ironically we start playing at 6 p.m.and our permit ends in November. During October and part of November, 300 plus softball players and other park goers will be unable to use the public restrooms. Who will be using restrooms in December?
An organization that received parts of the Dewitt Clinton Thursday night permit we had used for the past 35 seasons reached out to us offering some time back. They recognized the over allocation and approached us to give back time slots they were unable to use. We have documentation of that communication.
The way the permit office is allocating permits is actually creating shortages of time slots. They’ve changed the time slots, leaving an hour at the beginning of the night and and hour or more at the end of the night, eliminating one complete time slot. So where is the shortage?
Now that we have confirmed that we are targets and have been left out of the process we’re no longer asking for a seat at the table with Parks. We are asking for an investigation into the current practices and the real reasons why Parks has elected to use the recently updated rules and regulations to suit their biases and target us. For what reason? We have been nothing but a supporter and friend of parks.
They are not addressing the issues or properly applying the revised regulations which were intended to make room for other sports. With fields available for growing sports there was no need to displace anyone. They are making the problems worse — not solving a problem but rather creating a bigger one.
The softball community should have been invited to and represented at the April 30 meeting.
Our attempts to meet with Commissioner Silver have been ignored, and we have no choice now but to ask for your intervention.
We would greatly appreciate your assistance in setting up a fact-finding meeting that allows the baseball and softball community to present evidence of wrong doing before this gets further out of hand and they continue damaging a great city asset.
With my 60 years of experience with Parks, first as a little leaguer and now as a sports organizer for the past 40 years, I am more than confident that we can find a solution (as I have already offered to Commissioner Kavanagh) that can keep the softball and baseball communities growing in the city while respecting the participation of and growth of other sports as well.
Please take a few moments to review the history of YSA and the Parks Department, with whom we enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship dating back to the 70s: http://ysaleagues.com/history.html, and please review the attached comments posted by our players.
Adolfo Al Morales
President, Yorkville Sports Association
Chairman United Athletic Association
*Note: Our review of the barely legible Appearance Cards from the April 30meeting posted online indicates that the Chinatown Soccer Program, 5 Star Soccer Academy and Downtown United Soccer were represented. A representative of Friends of Morningside Park and two individuals who did not list their affiliation attended as well.
August 8, 2018; Email to City Officials
To: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Parks Committee Chair Barry Grodenchik, and Council Members Carlina Rivera, Mark Levine and Dianna Aylia
As softball league organizers and members of the softball community, we are requesting a meeting with the Parks Commissioner and his staff, and members of your staff as well, to discuss a pending destructive action the Manhattan Parks & Recreation permit office is considering. We are calling for a moratorium on issuing fall permits until our concerns are addressed, and are interested in hearing their justification for implementing last minute rules and regulations which will damage the softball and baseball community in your district.
You may not be aware that the Parks Department is planning to not issue permits for adult softball for the Fall 2018 (and beyond) season, in favor of other sports that are not only less popular, but involve significantly more wear and tear and destruction of public fields. This will cost the City and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to remedy, and is a significant and radical change in a policy that has been followed for at least three decades.
Our goal is to forestall the implementation of this broad policy change by the Manhattan permit office until critical information is shared among all stakeholders and due process is observed. It has become clear that permits which have been used for decades by adult softball recreational leagues are being reallocated to adult kickball, ultimate frisbee, rugby and other sports. This will result in a disruption in the use of some of the fields in your district and displacement of leagues with a proven record of being good for the community. We recently verified that the permit office is leaving some fields completely idle. As a result of these questionable – and abrupt – new rules and regulations, city softball teams have lost three months of play, and are now in danger of being unable to complete the upcoming spring and summer playoff season. And in an unprecedented and extremely damaging move, the permit office has now decided – without any prior notice, meeting or announcement – to eliminate fall baseball and softball completely.
To be clear, we deeply respect other sports, and welcome increased participation in an active lifestyle and full utilization of park resources. However, the elimination of fall softball will impact tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have been playing and supporting the local economy through this pastime for decades. The adult softball community is likely the most diverse form of recreation on public property as far as age, racial, ethnic, and economic background, and gender and sexual orientation. It is truly a microcosm of who we are as New Yorkers. For most of this community, it is their primary form of recreation and exercise, and for some it is their sole source. Also, many prominent corporations and local businesses rely on their softball team(s) for company morale, team building, recruiting, and job retention. We are asking for a level playing field and the same access to resources that is being made available to soccer, football, rugby and frisbee. We also need transparency, honesty and access to information before major decisions are made and implemented.
We have been joined by more than 1,000 concerned members of the softball and baseball community, who have taken the time to sign our Change.org petition.
Please assist us in working with the city to continue the proud — and fun — tradition of fall softball in NYC by convening a meeting with the Parks Commissioner and all appropriate personnel to answer our questions and determine the suitable, and fair, course of action.
For more information about the United Athletic Association, please see our website at http://uaasports.org/
Adolfo Morales, Chairman, United Athletic Association; Yorkville Sports Association
Jeff Marcus, Big Apple NYC
Jeff James, Big Apple Softball League
Pauline Gambuto, EDSO Sports
Jack Oppenheim, Friends of Heckscher
Michael Lattanzio, N.Y.C. Metro Sports, Inc.
Jean Silver, NYC Softball League
Bill McHugh, New York Show Business Softball League
July 25, 2018; Al Morales, YSA
In response to many emails from my office, the Parks Department responded with another shocker. They have been working for years behind the scenes to undermine the softball community without involving us, as evidenced in their email referencing "new rules and regulations" (Administrative Code. §2-12 Ballfield Permits),
adopted, according to them, in 2012. Suddenly, without proper notice, softball is out and frisbee is in.
We now understand that what’s been happening all spring and summer was a was a red flag – a warning and cue – for what was about to come. This fight has gotten a lot tougher.
Some of you will remember the meeting we attended in 2012 to discuss the growing problem of the lack of field space and the demand newly formed sports leagues were putting on the permit office. Their answer was to convene a fact finding meeting which, from my recollection, was to talk about the growing problem and try to find a solution.
Many league representatives spoke, including me, with suggestions for better communications among league organizers and creating more field space. It was left that we would receive minutes of the meeting and follow-up information for the for next step. That never happened. We had no idea what they had in the works to "solve" the problem. They have come up with a way to create a bigger problem and have sports leagues battling it out behind the scenes. The softball community has been blindsided. While we were waiting for our next meeting that never came, other forces have been at work changing the rules without public input.