Joe Spangler walked through the Bayonne Little League complex near First Street and JFK Boulevard as if he had just lost his best friend, and indeed, having been out of town when Hurricane Sandy hit, having heard only the reports of the rising tides that flowed between the field and the buildings, seeing it for himself was a shock.
The $266,000 estimated price tag on losses didn’t begin to cover the emotional blow at seeing fields covered with trash and whole rooms devastated. School uniforms, electrical equipment, computers, files, and even groundskeeping machinery were lost in one night, not to mention the aftermath that has put some of the recently re-seeded baseball fields in jeopardy. The grass turned brown as a result of contact with the saltwater of the Kill Van Kull.
Holding his hand up as high as his chest, Spangler indicated just how much water came through the complex the night of Oct. 29, and since almost everything the Little League owned had been below that level, nearly all of it became junk. The rooms were sodden with water and – unless dried out and repainted – are new breeding grounds for mold.
Massive cleanup effort
So over the weeks that followed the storm, volunteers flooded the complex in hopes to make up for some of the damage the water had done, picking up the massive amount of litter that covered whole fields: bottles, driftwood, plastic, Styrofoam, and other items that were part of the flotsam and jetsam in the bay and harbor beyond. Out from the buildings they dragged ruined refrigerators, water soaked filing cabinets, carpets, furniture and other items – sorting through those things that could be salvaged, making an account of what could not.
City officials that stored equipment at the complex also noted a significant loss of grounds keeping equipment used to maintain Dennis Collins Park, which runs along the shore of the Kill Van Kull. The park suffered the loss or damage to more than 200 trees and the storm knocked over a fence, officials said.
While the high winds and historically high tides caused havoc on the whole neighborhood, flooding everything from residential basements to the local Laundromat, and toppling trees throughout the park, the Little League suffered the most because of the huge amount of items stored on-site.
While baseball and other associated activities don’t officially throw out the first pitch until spring, the leagues are busy with activities throughout the year. Preparations for registration early in the new year had already begun, and the league had to put off its usual end-of-the-year award ceremonies until the league could pick up the pieces of the club house disaster.
This meant putting in heaters and fans into many of the otherwise windowless rooms, then when it was all dried out, repainting everything. Electrical systems that had shorted out because of the water have to be rewired; the power station near one of the buildings was so flooded it shorted out entirely. And the three pole-top transformers nearby exploded one after another in a spray of sparks and flames, which were one of the contributing factors to the loss of power in the area.
Although nearly two months after the storm, Spangler and others are still picking up pieces, and hints of the disaster still point to the ferocity – signs twisted off the fence or pulled right out of the ground. Even the field that was rebuilt by money from Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg at the foot of the Bayonne Bridge may soon turn brown and require extensive ground work to be ready for spring opening season.
“We have to replace it all.” – Joe Spangler
Not all was lost. Lady Luck gave back a little of what Mother Nature stole. One computer that had mailing list and other information somehow miraculously survived, allowing officials to contact people and to put together next season’s agenda.
But the loss of more than 600 uniforms, 200 batting helmets, 1,500 balls, catching gear, pitching machines, bases, and sundry other equipment, leaves the league in a significant financial hole.
“We have to replace it all,” Spangler said.
The complex is made up of five ballfields and a clutch of buildings that serves as league offices, snack bar, meeting rooms, changing and locker rooms. In them was a lifetime of memories that included photos and trophies that were washed away in one night.
“We’re never going to be able to replace those,” Spangler said.
This means that the league will need to reach out to the already storm-ravaged community with the hopes that people can help, as well as reaching to their membership to find a way to dig a little deeper into their pockets or to get volunteer help in other ways to restore the facility.
The award ceremony has been rescheduled for January and registration begins again on Jan. 2.
Meanwhile others keep on working, drying out, painting and setting up the facility again, all with the game plan of getting ready for the new season.
“We’ll be ready,” Spangler said. “We’ve already had a lot of volunteers helping us cleanup here.”
Donations can be made to the Bayonne Little League Offices at 200 West First Street, Bayonne, N.J., 07002.