Montreal closes Jeanne-Mance softball field because it's too dangerous
The City of Montreal has reneged on its promise to re-open a much-loved softball field in Jeanne-Mance park because a ballistics report indicates it's too dangerous to the public.
Last year, teams and park-goers learned of the plans to use the North field – where most of the pickup league’s games are held – to store equipment and machinery while the park’s tennis courts were under renovation.
“We became worried that this might be a pretext to eliminate the field, so we mobilized,” explained Marisa Berry Mendez, who is in her sixth season with the Jeanne Mance Park Softball Association.
“We attended council meetings, we set up a meeting with the city, we held community events, a petition – in order to make sure this wouldn’t happen,” she said.
The association even received a signed commitment from the previous director of Les Grands Parcs de Montreal confirming “absolutely,” the field would be useable after maintenance on the tennis courts was completed.
In February, the association received an email from Plateau mayor and current director of Les Grands Parcs, Luc Ferrandez, who confirmed that the park would be re-opened as of May 28.
But last week, Berry Mendez and others were called to a meeting with the borough, and told that the field would be abolished – even though Ferrandez threw the first pitch at their Save the North Field event last May.
“It made me feel really powerless,” Berry Mendez said. “We felt like we had these transparent lines of communication with the city and the arrondissement.”
On Tuesday, the backstop at the field was demolished – and players are furious.
“A lot of people voted for this administration,” she added. “They feel betrayed, they feel frustrated.”
The city, however, cites safety concerns among the reasons for the field’s closure.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Jeanne-Mance councillor Alex Norris said that for “reasons of public safety,” the city had “no choice” but to change their tune.
“A ballistic study carried out for the city shows that park users, as well as pedestrians and motorists on Mount Royal Avenue, are at serious risk of being hit and injured by stray balls if this softball field remains where it is,” Norris said in an email to CTV Montreal.
He goes on to add that passersby have already been hit, and the city was recently obliged to compensate one of the injured parties.
The park itself, he said, was originally built for children and never intended for use by adults. It doesn’t meet safety regulations, and there is “simply not enough remaining space in the park to include a second softball field for adults,” according to Norris.
But the excuses, players say, fall on deaf ears.
“We don’t really buy that,” Berry Mendez said. “Certainly we care about safety. We would be more than happy to have our field brought up to better safety standards: for the fences to be higher, that kind of thing.”
The park’s significance as a meeting place for teams for over five decades outweighs the risk of injury, some players said.
“We have players from every Latin American country. We have players from Asia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan,” explained Andy Bulman-Fleming.
“It’s a beautiful, inclusive community, and it’s paradoxical that this administration who purports to want to ‘polyculturalize’ everything and make it inclusive – this is exactly the kind of thing they should be cultivating instead of eradicating,” Bulman-Fleming added.
The players got some support from former Montreal Expos pitcher Bill 'Spaceman' Lee, who offered some words of encouragement in a video message.
"There's nothing greener than softball. You hear that mayor?" he said.
Opponents of the decision are expected to gather en masse at the upcoming Plateau borough council meeting, to be held on the evening of Monday, June 4th.