Foul Territory?

Actually, Weehawken Stadium, atop the Lincoln Tunnel, is a pretty fair field
September 04, 1994

The biggest problem with the ball field on top of the Lincoln Tunnel isn't the noxious fumes wafting up from the traffic below, nor is it the relentless racket of cars and trucks on the highways and feeder ramps encircling the field. No, the biggest problem is losing balls over the tunnel's edge.

"One time a guy's car window broke from a baseball, and he brought the ball back," says Chuck Barone, the director of parks in Weehawken, N.J., which operates and maintains the held known as Weehawken Stadium. "But we never get the footballs back."

Park workers have placed a fence along the first base line, yet baseballs soar right over that barrier and a pollution-stained wall a few feet beyond it. The wayward missiles carom off the cars of unsuspecting commuters fighting traffic at the mouth of the tunnel, which connects New Jersey and New York City. Barone estimates that teams lose a total of six to eight dozen balls a year.

Along the rightfield foul line is a higher fence, erected to keep even the most enthusiastic high school placekickers from legging the pigskin out of the stadium. Nevertheless, as many as 10 footballs fly over the edge of the tunnel each season like lemmings jumping off a cliff.

Tucked behind Weehawken's city hall, the ball field is an oasis in a desert of concrete. It was built in 1937, but years of neglect and poor management left it looking bedraggled. Finally, in 1987, the field was rescued and given a $500,000 overhaul.

Before that the common assumption about the field's location atop the country's busiest tunnel had been that pollution would not allow the growth of grass and shrubs. But, says Weehawken's mayor, Richard Turner, "that should never have been a concern." He points from his office's corner window to the field and the traffic below it. "Look around the tunnel and these ramps—there are trees living everywhere."

It is a spring evening, and the Weehawken Red Sox are taking on the Weehawken and You Civic Association team. Fifteen-year-old Lonny Motto has an unobstructed view of Manhattan's financial district. From his position at shortstop he can see the setting sun reflecting off the World Trade Center towers across the Hudson River. Motto's concentration isn't broken by the plumes of exhaust hovering near the field or by the buses and cars whizzing behind the outfield walls at 60 mph.

"I don't even notice any of the other Stuff around the stadium," Lonny says. "I love playing here." The only complaints people have about the field concern its dimensions—272 feet down the right-field line, 410 feet to left center and 350 feet to left. "The players are upset that it is too hard to hit home runs," Barone says.

The state of New Jersey doesn't take issue with the stadium's location either. It recently awarded Weehawken a $1.5 million grant for park beautification. In addition Environmental Protection Agency records show that pollution levels around Weehawken Stadium are below the ceiling for pollutants.

"Look at it this way," Turner says. "There is a lot of traffic here for a concentrated amount of time, about an hour in the morning and for the same amount of time at night, and people usually aren't playing then. There is probably more pollution by the Meadowlands, where cars are constantly driving by."

Around Thanksgiving, just after Weehawken High has played its last football game of the season, the field usually ices up. Barone stops doing maintenance work and becomes the stadium's security guard. "I sometimes have to chase kids off," he says. "The field has to have time to grow, and under the ice is the perfect time. But the kids are always here because this is the best public park we have."

With some 68 athletic teams playing sports at various levels at the field, the city is taking great pains to make sure that the stadium becomes more than a curious relic for commuters to gawk at. The grant from the state is being used to ensure that the field never again needs a costly and lengthy overhaul. But more important, Weehawken Stadium's inventory of baseballs and footballs should remain fully stocked for many seasons to come.

PHOTOGEORGE TIEDEMANNThe ballpark is used—even at rush hour—by 68 teams.