Despite the it’s bucolic “field of dreams” image, baseball has urban roots. Before the development of suburbs after World War II, baseball was a city game played in vacant lots, and even in the street. The development of the suburbs changed the geographic and socio-economic basis of the game, and the rising popularity of football and basketball displaced the primacy of baseball as the great American pastime.
But baseball is still played in the city on scruffy fields caged behind yards of chain-link fencing. My son, Brendan, is one of a relatively small number of New York City kids who made it all the way through Little League to college ball. I’ve journeyed to dozens of games in the Bronx and all over the five boroughs. These fields are not glamorous places — unlike nearby Yankee Stadium. They don’t engender much nostalgia, though I still feel somewhat attached to Pier 40 on the Hudson River in lower Manhattan, a disused passenger ship terminal converted into a recreational facility.
Baseball is played on fan-shaped fields, while New York is a city of rectilinear blocks. It’s not a natural fit. Nevertheless, baseball remains deeply associated with the city historically and in the present. In Greenwich Village Little Leaguers play on J.J. Walker field hemmed in by a high outfield fence to prevent well-struck balls from breaking windows across the street. And in the Bronx, housing projects overlook Monroe High School where many of the best Latino players in the city learn the game.