Words from an Athlete: Reminiscing On Past Seasons at the Red Hook Fields


The Red Hook ball fields

There is a large padlock on the entrance gate of the Red Hook softball fields. The fields, officially known as Fields #5, #6, #7, and #8, are now unkempt and seriously overgrown with weeds — there are so many that it is impossible to distinguish the infield from the outfield. Seeing the fields in such terrible condition made me reminisce about better times on those fields; when we played softball on those fields. Our team used to play our home games there. I remember arriving on game days; my teammates and I would help our coaches unload the equipment from the bus. Then we would warm up and prepare for our game.

I have many fond memories of our games there. Our home games are now played in Prospect Park, but I miss the Red Hook fields. They had a great, gritty, inner-city feel.

I was curious as to why, in a city without enough park space, the Red Hook Fields were being closed down. So, I decided to do some research. I first discovered that before the softball fields opened around 1950, and in 1920 there was a steel smelting plant where Field #7 now stands on the corner of Lorraine Street and Hicks Street. The steel smelting plant was named Columbia Smelting and Refinery Works. It operated on site from 1920 until the late 1930s when it permanently closed down. Around 1950, the N.Y.C. Parks Department turned the area into softball fields and they have been serving the community ever since.

In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested the soil at Red Hook Fields. The initial test revealed elevated levels of lead pollution. The EPA initially insisted that they had only conducted preliminary tests and although those test showed elevated levels of lead pollution, they stated that they needed additional tests to determine the exact levels of lead in the soil. In 2014, the N.Y.C. Parks Department posted on their website that the ball field would open again in 2015, as regularly scheduled. They even wrote in an email to a local reporter from the Brooklyn Paper, “The ballfields remain safe for all park users and pose no imminent threat to public health.” In April of 2015, the EPA finally conducted further tests which were more in depth and showed that the lead pollution level was high enough, more than four times the level deemed dangerous, and therefore required immediate action. Unfortunately, the ballfields were closed for the 2015 season and will remain closed until they can be cleaned and/or decontaminated and no longer pose a health threat to the public.

After some additional research on cleaning up lead pollution, the general consensus reached by lead professionals is that lead pollution decontamination/eradication is a dangerous procedure and can, in fact, send lead particles into the air and create an even larger public health hazard. Lead pollution eradication is essential and is also very expensive when done properly. For now, the NYC Parks Department has an EPA-approved plan for handling the Red Hook fields pollution remediation process.. The new fields will be approximately a foot higher than ground level as they currently stand. New entrances with ramps and stairs will also be built.

The NYC Department of Parks estimates that this process will cost approximately $50 million, and because of the magnitude of the work it will take at least a year or two to complete. At the moment, the funds are not available to proceed with this plan. I sent an email to the NYC Parks Department asking for an update and I have not received a response. I suppose we will not be playing there anytime soon, which we can all agree is a shame. Softball is a sport that is enjoyed by people of all ages and the Red Hook Fields hosted many games for many different leagues. I hope to play there once the new fields are completed.