In East Harlem, A Diamond In The Rough

East Harlem ball field
Volunteers hang the scoreboard at the newly-restored little league ball field in East Harlem, New York. Journalist Jon Frankel led the effort after repeatedly driving by the dilapidated lot.

It's opening night at New York's newest ballpark. This one doesn't have luxury boxes or fancy restaurants. It was built for kids, by some adults who created a true diamond in the rough, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

The little leaguers in East Harlem weren't going to let a little drizzle bother them. Not in this neighborhood, where crime and poverty - not a sparkling new baseball diamond - are the usual facts of life.

"I'm here to play, and that's what we're gonna do," said little leaguer Giovanni Rodriguez.

A few months ago, their field was nothing but weeds, ditches, and trash - entirely unplayable. Journalist Jon Frankel was bothered every time he drove by.

"It just began to burn inside me and I said, 'Why isn't anybody playing on this empty lot?'" Frankel said.

Frankel didn't just keep driving. He raised $40,000 for new sod. Word got out that someone wanted to fix up the ball field and Frankel soon had something more valuable than money to work with - an army of volunteers, nearly 50 of them.

They tore down rusted fences and busted benches, leveled the infield and picked up piles of trash.

"It's real special," said Enrique Torres, a volunteer who grew up in East Harlem. There's something about a ball field in the middle of the city

"You know what? I'd rather see this than a damn condo," Torres said.

Everyone wanted to participate. The firefighters of Engine Company 58 - the busiest in the city - found time to water the field.

Dan Cunningham lives 60 blocks away, but came to help get the infield ready. He knows how to do that. He's the head groundskeeper for the Yankees.

Maybe Tyrone Griffin explains it best. He's lived in the neighborhood for 40 years. He's out of work but smiling on game night.

"When I walk past this field every day I can say, 'I put this field down. I helped build this field,'" he said.

"It's the best thing to ever to happened," said little leaguer Freddy Gonzales.

In East Harlem, an eyesore's been restored to its proper grandeur - and we've all been reminded of the unifying power of two words in America: "play ball."

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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.