Pershing Field looked a little like a military operation four days before young baseball pitchers were expected to kick off the 2016 season this weekend.
Volunteers from the Jersey City Home Depot on Route 440 joined Pony League baseball members and parents to help get the field, dugouts, club house, and concession stand ready for April 16.
As in past years, players and parents will parade into the Pershing Field Park as part of the annual opening day ceremonies. But this year, they will find a field completely leveled, dug out roofs re-shingled and painted, as well as a completely refurbished club house.
Michael Romano, Home Depot store manager, said league officials came into his store earlier this year looking for supplies, and his store decided to lend a hand as part of it community outreach program.
“One of our core values is to give back to the community,” Romano said.
“This is a great thing for Pershing Field baseball.” – Ritchie Lopez.
Home Depot donated the materials, including paint and new cabinets for the club house. Workers leveled the playing field, bullpen and repaired the snack bar, Romano said.
Ritchie Lopez, president of the Pony League, said he was stunned by the community support that included significant donations from Goya Foods and Home Depot, both located in Jersey City, as well as Encore Petroleum of Bayonne.
Luis LeBron, president of Encore, said he does business throughout Hudson County, but as a boy, he lived in Jersey City Heights.
“I played here,” he said. “This is like coming home for me.”
LeBron and the vice president of the company, Steve Jospey, came out to lend their aid to the rebuilding effort.
Bob Baker, vice president of the league, said the upgrades to the field were “an extremely big deal,” because it will allow the league to rebuild its membership as well as its facilities.
Involved in the program at Pershing Field, Baker said he strolls through the fields and sees the spirits of all the great players and coaches that played here.
New leadership takes over program
Councilman Michael Yun said youth baseball underwent a major change with new people coming on to run the program.
“Parents came to School 7 and voted for these people to run the program,” Yun said.
Two groups of leaders have battled for control of baseball programs at Pershing Field.
A group headed by a number of Jersey City police officers wrestled control of the league earlier this year when parents complained that kids were not getting the equipment they needed, playing time, or even the trophies they earned when they did play.
The new group said conditions of the field, club house and lack of equipment justified their getting the permit from the city to run Pershing Field Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth leagues. Parents voted to support the Pony League organized by Capt. Edgar Martinez, commander of the Heights police precinct.
“It was the right thing to do,” Yun said.
Kevin Williamson, director of Jersey City Recreation, said the community has come out to support the program.
Lopez said the repairs to the field will be done in time to hold the annual parade and opening day festivities.
“We’ve asked everybody to gather around 8:30 a.m. on April 16 and we will hold the parade,” Lopez said. “The first pitch will be around 9:30 a.m.”
Also a Jersey City police officer, Lopez said there will be a focus on safety, giving appropriate space for practices and warm ups, and where parents are allowed to gather, voiding some problems the league faced in the past.
“This is a great thing for Pershing Field baseball,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.