SPORTS

'Homeless' Tigers call the road home

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Richard Pardo and Branden Estevez both drew the short straw.

The Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy baseball team had just set up shop to practice on a field in Van Cortlandt Park. The bats were pulled out, the pitching screens set up, and a brisk two-hour practice was about to commence.

That’s when two teams with a permit for the field showed up to play their game. So RKA was forced to pack its bags and grab their bats while Pardo and Estevez were tasked with lugging the screens to a nearby vacant field.

Again the Tigers players unpacked their bats and set up the screens. And again, just minutes later, two teams with permits arrived to begin their game. Again RKA packed its bags with Pardo and Estevez again doing the heavy lifting.

After another 20-minute search, the Tigers found an unoccupied patch of green just south of the park’s Parade Grounds where they were finally able to get in some practice time, though batting practice was limited.

At least Pardo and Estevez were able to take a break from schlepping the screens.

Such is a day in the life of the RKA Tigers as their home field, Seton Park, undergoes extensive renovations, rendering the Tigers homeless this season. They will play 16 regular-season games on 12 different fields this year, and it has made for a rather difficult season for head coach John Reingold and his program.

“I knew this was going to happen for a couple of years, but nothing seemed imminent,” Reingold said. “There was just talk about it getting done. Then one of my guys comes to me around mid-December and he said they’ve put fencing up around the field and the construction had started and the field was closed down. No one even gave me a heads up.”

That led to a mad scramble of finding fields to play their games this season, and a frantic cry for help to the Public School Athletic League.

“I called the PSAL and they rearranged a bunch of our games, but one of them is still listed to be played at Seton,” Reingold said, pointing to the May 3 contest against IN-Tech. “So I don’t know what they’re going to do about that.”

As one might expect, getting booted from not one but two fields in a matter of 20 minutes has been the low point for these Tigers.

“This is the worst,” senior catcher Ulysses Luciano said. “We got kicked off twice. We usually only get kicked off once.”

While finding practice space has proved challenging, getting to games has had its own difficulties. With every one of their matchups on the road, the Tigers have been forced to use private buses to reach their games, and that costs money.

“We sell cookies and Honey Buns and other snacks at lunch to try and raise some money,” Luciano said. “We take buses almost every day to games. But I’m not really sure how much exactly that we’ve raised.”

Parents of team members also have stepped in to drive players to games, Reingold said, but only on weekends.

“That helps so we don’t have to spend more money on buses,” the coach said.

Despite the hurdles this season has presented, Reingold thinks it has been a good learning experience for his Tigers.

“Part of me actually welcomes the inconvenience because I think the kids got too comfortable,” Reingold said. “They have their own baseball field, Seton Park, in their backyard. All they’ve ever known is having their own field whenever they want. Ninety percent of the teams in the city don’t have that luxury. So I said to them, ‘Guys, you’re going to have to learn how to travel. You’re going to have to learn how to hump it like everyone else.’”

Public transportation is not a viable option for the most part as the time between school dismissal and the 4 o’clock start of a game leaves very little wiggle room for travel.

One example is RKA’s recent visit to Truman High School.

“For our kids to take public transportation from RKA to Truman, to go completely on the other side of the Bronx, it would take them an hour and a half to get there,” Reingold said. “So we had to take a private bus there and back.”

Through it all, however, the Tigers have banded together and have posted a respectable 4-2 record going into spring break.

“I think we’re good enough to deal with the adversity,” Luciano said.

In the meantime, Reingold and his players will continue to fundraise, hope for some donations, and remain committed to overcoming their situation.

“We’re racking up a lot of miles,” Reingold said with a laugh. “I wish there was some kind of credit card I could attach this to.”

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