Mayor Andre Sayegh came clad in a Cleveland Indians jersey at the Larry Doby softball field on Thursday morning to announce eight fields throughout the city will be refurbished using $30,000 in private money.
Larry Doby softball field will be first to be refurbished over the coming weeks followed by Commons Field, Titus Field, Pennington Park, West Side Park, Brandie’s Park, Eastside Park, Putnam Oval, and a field at the Paterson Catholic High School.
“Our youth deserve better,” said Sayegh standing on the home plate with the donors, Cesar (pictured, right) and Jennifer Pina. “We’re going to fix those fields.”
A history buff, Sayegh picked Jul. 5, to make the announcement. It was on Jul. 5, 1947 that Doby broke the color barrier in the American League, said Sayegh. Three months earlier, Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier in National League. Doby, who got his start at Eastside High School, is often overlooked for his significant accomplishment.
“I don’t believe he gets the credit that he has earned,” said John Currie (left), chairman of the New Jersey Democratic Party, who played at the field growing up.
“Usually, we’re rehabbing houses, today, we’re rehabbing baseball fields for the youth of Paterson,” said Pina. He and his wife own WhairHouse Group, a real estate business. For the past 10 years, the couple has been rehabbing and flipping properties in the Paterson area. “I wanted to give back for a while.”
The couple have a 13-year-old daughter enrolled at the Totowa Public Schools. She plays softball, said the father.
Pina said he employs 20 Paterson residents. Many of them were on the field when their boss made the announcement.
At each of the eight fields, batter’s boxes and the pitching mounds will be re-done with brick clay, said public works director William “Billy” Rodriguez. Side and overhead fencing at the batter’s box at Larry Doby Field will be replaced by the city.
Rodriguez said the field will be levelled as part of the repairs to prevent player injuries.
“You can’t forget about the girls. We got a lot of girls out here that want to play softball and deserve a good field,” said Maurice Richardson, who coaches girls’ softball for the Division of Recreation.
Pina’s family moved to Paterson from Washington Heights when he was a boy. He attended School 27 and Don Bosco High School. On Thursday, he hinted, that he may donate more funds in the future.
The couple have received attention in the Paterson Times over the past three months. Pina’s wife was listed as the buyer of the old School 5 on Totowa Avenue. She spent $1 million to purchase the property, which prominent developer Charles Florio, said was a sweetheart deal. Florio has said the district “undersold” the building that is walking distance from the Great Falls.
Florio pointed out the city, which owns the fields, has a shared services agreement with the school district. He said Pina is “giving back” for getting the old School 5 on the cheap.
“Now, all the sudden, this developer that was rewarded by the Democratic Party, is doing some fields. Interesting, don’t you think?” remarked Florio. “Now out of the kindness of his heart he is cutting the grass.”
Florio said the Passaic County Democrat Party controlled school board handed Pina the old School 5. He described the sale and the move to refurbish the eight fields as a “quid pro quo.” He has questioned the process the school district used to sell the property. He has said publicly, he was willing to offer more for the building.
“There’s more to come,” said Florio. He made a prediction: Pina will very likely end up getting a portion of the state tax credits to rehabilitate the old School 5. He will receive some sort of government funding to rehabilitate the building on the corner of Totowa and Sherman Avenues.
Speculation is that the Pinas are harnessing the political network of big-time Hudson County real estate developer Rene Abreu. Pina backed Pedro Rodriguez in the recent mayoral race. There were whispers Abreu had backed Rodriguez in the race.
Pina is unknown in the real estate investing business, said Florio. “This guy hasn’t developed anything,” he said. He wondered where Pina is getting his funds for the big project on Main Street and the purchase of old School 5.
Pina said Sayegh was approachable when he pitched his plan to donate funds to rehab the fields.
The eight fields will be refurbished by Sponzilli Landscape, said Pina. The couple donated the funds to the One Paterson Foundation, a civic organization under the federal tax code, formed by Sayegh that is “dedicated to promoting unity and bridging divides by engaging in social advocacy to facilitate inclusion, diversity, and collaboration across a wide range of stakeholders.”
Public works employees will receive instruction on how to maintain the fields once they are refurbished.