Dutchess Stadium (Photo courtesy of the Hudson Valley Renegades)

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Manhattan Leaves Unique Home Field Behind

You don’t appreciate how big a baseball diamond is until you need one.

Fair territory of a baseball field with an outfield fence that remains a constant 330 feet from home plate, including in center field, has an area of 85,529 square feet, or slightly less than two acres. That area grows when you add foul territory (including batter’s boxes), dugouts, bleachers, concession stands, bathrooms and clubhouses. We grew up playing Babe Ruth and high school ball on fields that size, and it really doesn’t seem like they take up that much land—certainly a relatively successful Division I baseball team could find such a parcel close to campus.

Manhattan College’s campus, which is home to more than 3,000 students, itself sits on only 22 acres and is wedged between Broadway on the east and developed land that runs all the way to the Hudson River on the west. Manhattan could buy a 1.16-acre vacant lot six miles south, zoned industrial, and still need another like it to have enough room for fair territory in the smallest stadium in Division I. Even if enough land for a stadium could be found in one place at that rate, the school would exhaust its endowment paying for it before laying a single brick.

Said Manhattan’s fourth-year head coach Jim Duffy: “If someone came to me and said there was an opportunity to build a college ballpark here, on campus or in the general vicinity of campus, but we need this amount of money, I’d be the first one in line saying ‘I’m here. I’ll raise that number.’ ”

“That number” would easily stretch into the multiple hundreds of millions of dollars, which is why, instead of trying to raise such a sum, Manhattan College has sought out other options.

The Jaspers, who won the MAAC as recently as 2012, are therefore excited to travel more than 60 miles up the Hudson River to play their home games in a minor league park, putting an end to a home field situation unlike any other in major college baseball.

For four decades, Manhattan played on a temporary field in neighboring Van Cortlandt Park, a municipal park that sits across the street from campus. The city of New York owns the baseball field, which lacks, among other things, an outfield fence and dugout roofs.

“There was no grounds crew whatsoever,” Duffy said. “There was none of that. The only thing getting done out there is what the assistant coaches were doing and what the players were doing. We line the field, we drag it, we put the fences up, we do all that stuff.”

Van Cortlandt Park (Photo by Carlisle Stockton)Van Cortlandt Park (Photo by Carlisle Stockton)

Even though Manhattan’s players were doing the lion’s share of field maintenance, and even though the field was home to a team that went to back-to-back regionals in 2011 and 2012, the fact that Van Cortlandt Park is a municipal facility prevented the school from doing even modest upgrades or having to share.

“The frustrating part about it is that you’d get done with practice in the afternoon, you’d drag it, you’d rake it and it would look really good and the surface really wasn’t that bad,” Duffy said. “The problem was that when you got done, there might be a 13-year-old team getting ready to come back on and practice, or there might be an American Legion game … so it was really hard to keep it in good shape, especially for a D-I program.”

Not that any of that prevented the Jaspers from going 18-0 at home in 2012, but director of intercollegiate athletics Noah D. LeFevre nevertheless decided that the team would be better off in a dedicated facility. While it’s not uncommon for colleges in major cities to share a field with professional teams, the amount of time and effort Manahattan’s players and staff were putting into field maintenance meant the school could widen its search radius and still come out with a more convenient home for the team.

“Where I really started thinking about this was last year,” LeFevre said. “We played St. Peter’s in a 2 p.m. contest and it poured the night before. We had to have a lot of our staff and players out there working on the Van Cortlandt Park field at 8 a.m. for a 2 p.m. game. We could’ve traveled to Syracuse in that time and played a game.”

LeFevre landed on Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Because the Renegades play in the short-season New York-Penn League, Manhattan’s season will be over by the time the ballpark’s primary tenants start theirs, which eliminates booking issues common to such field-sharing arrangements. The 4,494-seat stadium features clubhouses, lights, sheltered dugouts and grandstands along both baselines, which most teams take for granted but all of which are new to the Jaspers.

Perhaps most importantly, the Jaspers will play their home games on artificial turf, which is essential for East Coast teams north of Washington or so, where the first half of the college baseball season is when “sleet season” meets “mud season.”

“Being in the Northeast and not having a turf facility was very difficult,” LeFevre said.

“There are some pros and cons to it,” Duffy said, “and the pros list certainly outweighs the cons. The one con is that it’s not on campus.”

That undersells it a little—Dutchess Stadium is 63 miles from campus by road, almost as far away as Trenton, N.J., is in the other direction. The first two opponents Manhattan will play in its new park—Marist and Army—are significantly closer to Dutchess Stadium than the “home” team.

LeFevre said the athletic department is doing everything it can to mitigate the travel difficulties, like scheduling weekend doubleheaders and holding midweek games at night so the players won’t have to miss as much class time. He also said there is a plan in the works to make it easier for members of the student body to travel up to Fishkill to cheer their team on. He doesn’t think the travel will be a problem.

“I’ve done it in 53 minutes, door-to-door, without breaking any laws,” he said.

Duffy sees the travel not as an inconvenience, but as a redistribution of time the team would’ve spent setting up the field anyway.

“Instead of us going to Van Cortlandt Park at 7:30 a.m. to rake and drag and put Diamond Dry down there—we’d usually go down there in sweats and do field maintenance for an hour and a half, then I’d let the kids go eat breakfast, get dressed and do BP—now instead of doing that, we’ll meet and we’ll travel up there in street clothes and we’ll just get into the clubhouse,” he said.

Even though Duffy and LeFevre are excited to move their team into a professional stadium, there is some nostalgia for their old home. The Jaspers still practice at Van Cortlandt Park, but they’re saying goodbye to a home field that served as the program’s defining characteristic.

“It was just about us and being on the field—our guys competing on the field and trying to win the game,” Duffy said. “The kids that came to Manhattan College from a recruiting standpoint, their priorities were about winning and about developing and playing Division I baseball and having a chance to advance to a regional every year—it wasn’t about how pretty their field was.”

We’ll see how things go now that they’ve got a pretty field.

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