As Stephen Crawford fetched something from the trunk of his car, a soaring baseball flew over the high school’s athletic field fence, heading straight for his house on St. Ann’s Drive and missing him by less than a yard before bouncing up his driveway.
The high school baseball team on Monday, Jan. 27, was in a hitting clinic with the San Francisco Giants’ Hunter Pence. The right fielder, who hit one of last season’s longest home runs at 476 feet at Denver’s Coors Field, shared his expertise without charge, said baseball coach Mike Blair, who invited the player, a friend. The team challenged the pro hitter to see how many homers he could hit in a row. He hit plenty.
For Crawford, that was one homer too many. Four more flew into his yard. Six more landed next door to Crawford’s house. A line drive over the left field fence hit a car on nearby Browncroft Road with several more landing in that yard, said Crawford. In all, approximately two-dozen baseballs went flying into the neighborhood on Monday alone.
Crawford, after complaining to the assistant coach on the field running the clinic, took his dispute to the school board meeting Tuesday, which legally could not respond since the issue was not on the publicly noticed agenda. Nevertheless, on Wednesday the district emptied its administrative bench, sending high school principal Joanne Culverhouse, assistant principal Bob Billinger, assistant superintendent Dean West, facilities director Ted Doughty, athletic director Mike Churchill and the baseball coaches to meet with Crawford and seven other neighbors.
Culverhouse said they came up with a game plan. Hitting practice, said Culverhouse, may take place at a different field with more open space and players will use the batting cage on the high school field more. On game days, temporary signs will be posted in the neighborhood warning residents and visitors to watch out for high-flying baseballs.
“They’re going to work on all the skills they need to be good athletes without having so many balls go over the fence as homeruns,” said Culverhouse. “The coaches are going to restructure their practices so the opportunities to hit homeruns are reduced.”
Neighbors have collected almost eight five-gallon buckets of baseballs since the field was reoriented during campus renovations made a decade ago. Baseballs have hit cars and houses, and the district has paid up on numerous damage claims from the St. Ann’s neighborhood, said Crawford, who also protested the view-blocking 30-foot-high fence built around the renovated ball field and helped convince school officials to drop installation of field lights.
“Sooner or later, somebody’s going to get hurt,” said another neighbor, who requested anonymity. A query to district officials about the number of claims from St. Ann’s was not returned.
“We’re in a no-win situation,” said Suzy McInerny, president of the baseball boosters. Out of deference to neighbors’ concerns, city and school officials refuse to put up field netting because it would block views and players cannot practice on weekends nor play with lights, though lights illuminate the football field. “It’s a double-standard,” she said, which hurts the program. “We need to hit homeruns. It keeps kids focused and teaches sportsmanship,” said McInerny, parent of two baseball playing sons.
Previously, home base was closer to the field fence along St. Ann’s and homeruns went into the football field. “It was perfect,” McInerny said.