City says there isn't room for 2 softball diamonds at Jeanne-Mance Park

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City says there isn't room for 2 softball diamonds at Jeanne-Mance Park

City says there isn't room for 2 softball diamonds at Jeanne-Mance Park

A public consultation on the future of Jeanne-Mance Park will include discussions about a demolished softball diamond, even though the city says there isn't enough room for two adult fields there.

Alex Norris, a city councillor in the Plateau neighbourhood, said the decision to close the so-called north field wasn't an easy one.

But he said there isn't enough room for two softball diamonds that would adhere to safety regulations for adults. 

For now, the south field, which is regulation size, will stay but the north field is already being razed.

"There's no campaign to eliminate softball, there's no campaign to somehow take issue with this beautiful, diverse group of pick-up players who play there," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"We would love for them to continue playing in that location. We take no pleasure in this decision. We will do our utmost to find a solution that is to the satisfaction of everyone."

The city confirmed to CBC in a text message Monday that the consultation would include the north field, which was closed last year in order to facilitate renovations to the nearby tennis courts.

The people who play softball at the field were told it would be available for them to use starting this spring, but days before it was supposed to reopen, they were informed it would be closed for good.

The reason was safety-related. In 2016, a woman picnicking in the park was struck in the head by an errant ball.

She was hospitalized and still suffers from the ill effects today, said Norris, who added that he tracked down and spoke to the woman himself. The city had to compensate her for her injuries, he said.

Adults were never supposed to play on the field, which was built for children, Norris said. The stands and backstop are already gone, and the infield is being replaced by grass.

Listen to Alex Norris justify the city's decision in the full interview with Daybreak:

Ballistics report did not recommend closing the field

After the woman was hit, the city commissioned a ballistics report to determine possible trajectories of balls coming from both the north and south fields. CBC Montreal has obtained a copy of that report.

It uses published studies and information provided by the city, such as blueprints, to calculate the course balls would take depending on various factors. It does not appear to take into account real-life situations that have unfolded at the field.

The report found that for the north field, there are areas including the tennis courts and sidewalk on Mont-Royal Avenue where passersby may get hit by a stray ball.

However, it also states that the vast majority of balls that are hit will likely fall within the limits of the field.

The report found the south field has far fewer problem areas. Now that the north field is gone, both the pick-up softball community and a softball league, born out of that community, share the south field, a situation players say isn't sustainable.

Norris admitted there is nothing in the report that states the field should be closed. The city made the call based on advice from the parks department.

He said as public office holders, the administration's responsibility is not to eliminate all risk, but to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

"What we were advised is that it is unsafe to have adults playing on an unfenced softball field that's intended for children," he said.

Norris could not say whose regulations — provincial, national, or otherwise — the field doesn't meet.

Softball players unconvinced

Norris said the public consultation, which will happen in the fall, was already planned and is not a reaction to the outcry.

The idea is to "consult the entire community, all users of the park, including the softball community, to see how we can best reconcile all the multiple uses of that park," he said.

The door is open to accommodate the softball players, Norris said, but there is no way one field can be rebuilt without closing the other.

Marisa Berry Mendez, who is part of a group campaigning to save the north field, said she doesn't buy the city's argument.

"It sounds like they made a decision and now they have to back it up," she said, adding the city may not have anticipated the issue would strike the nerve that it did.

Adults have been playing ball on the north field for decades without serious incident, she added. 

"It really is a community meeting place, so I can't say it surprises me that there has been a lot of support. But I am really pleased that there is."

She said the safety issue resonates with people, and that may be why the city has chosen to focus on it.

The group has been documenting solutions from other fields and will put together a proposal they will eventually present to the city, she said.

Lionel Perez, leader of Ensemble Montréal, the opposition at city hall, said Tuesday it appears the Plante administration wasn't interested in coming up with a solution to make the field safer.

"If some decision or some element that doesn't fit in with their political ideology, with their urban ideology of how Montreal, how city centres should be, they exclude it," he said.  

"Then they see the backlash, and once they have the backlash they're like OK well we're open to seeing some kind of change."