Central Park is one of the most popular places to play baseball and softball in New York City – and for good reason. With its green landscapes and surrounding Manhattan skyline, the Park offers a one-of-a-kind setting to play ball.
Thousands of ballplayers flock to the Park each spring and summer for another reason: the Park's 26 ballfields are beautifully maintained. Outfields are lush and green, clay infields are well-groomed and backstops are regularly repaired.
Still, many people might not realize the work that goes into keeping the ballfields in top form. They also might not understand that temporary closures are necessary to allow Conservancy staff to keep up with regular maintenance of the fields, which get heavily used with about 17,000 permits a year.
"Our staff takes a lot of pride in maintaining the ballfields," says Maria Hernandez, the Conservancy's Director of Horticulture.
Each morning before opening the ballfields at 11am, the Conservancy's staff scout the fields at the Great Lawn, North Meadow and Heckscher. They look for dry or wet patches and determine whether the outfields are getting the right amount of water. They also check to see if the fields need edging and if all 280 sprinklers are working properly. And each day, the clay infields are groomed.
"You have to," explains Hernandez. "The players love to kick and dig in with their feet, so you get these ruts that need regrading."
Lawns are mowed regularly – about once a week in the summer, and two to three times a week in the spring and fall, when the grass grows more quickly. Every few weeks, the ballfields close for a maintenance day, typically from 8pm to 3pm the following day. This gives the Conservancy a chance to do more rigorous work on the fields, including aerating, over-seeding, fertilizing, adding clay to the fields and any other larger project. Ballfield closures are also necessary after heavy rains so the Conservancy can pump puddles and allow the turf to dry. Otherwise, says Hernandez, walking on the fields can feel like walking on Jell-O.
"We know it can be frustrating to see a ballfield closed," says Hernandez, "but we really ask for the public's patience while we work to keep the Park a great place to play ball."
When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in the 19th Century, they designated this 10-acre meadow in the southwest corner of the Park as a "playground" — the term used to describe a versatile open meadow intended for games, sports and informal play.