Battling thick infield dust and a broiling sun, George Dillon and Mike Herman frolicked through a timeless rite of summer.
In their simple design, one pitched and the other batted. A pop fly into the outfield grass was a home run. To the untrained eye, they were teen-agers having fun on a baseball diamond behind Sandy Plains Elementary School in Dundalk.
But a steady stream of complaints to police and Baltimore County officials about fast-flying balls, broken windows and other damage recently prompted the county Department of Recreation and Parks to impose a policy limiting ball-playing on the field's two diamonds to those 12 years old and younger. If caught by police, violators could be fined $25.
Teen-agers and others in the neighborhood say angry eyes are watching the diamond.
"There's one lady who actually stands at her back door waiting to see if a ball goes into her yard," said Mike, a 15-year-old student at Calvert Hall College high school.
Any youngster who has improvised a game -- even the most primitive involving a shaved tennis ball and a broomstick -- can attest to the wayward paths of balls that wind up in petunia patches or occasionally through someone's bay window.
But property owners on Kavanagh Road -- most of whom live 10 feet from the edge of the field -- say they have been frightened repeatedly by balls crashing into their homes or automobiles for at least two years.
Adults use it too
Beatrice Killmon has had five car windshields shattered by errant pop flies, and she said her next-door neighbor was drying off in her bathroom when a golf ball whistled through her window. Adults use the field to practice golf shots.
"You're afraid to yell 'heads up' to the children because they might get hit in the face," said Jan Jaworski, who has lived on Kavanaugh Road for 27 years and collected enough golf balls to open a caddy shack.
"To top it off, we have a dent in our new van from a baseball that flew over into our alley this summer," she said.
So the residents of West Inverness -- a community of 2,500 homes and apartments on a knob of land between Lynch Cove and Chink Creek -- are waging war against the sluggers with as much fervor as they muster in battling neighborhood crime and a government subsidized housing project.
"People who live on Kavanaugh [Road] want a safe place for their kids, their grandchildren," said Patricia Herman, no relation to Mike, and president of the community association. "That's why this issue is so important to us."
But the new rule to ban older players from the field is being ignored, she said. "This is a can of worms. Wait until next summer."
Other fields available
Capt. Michael DePaula, commander of the North Point precinct, said that the issue "is a tremendous headache. Fortunately, it is one of the biggest issues we've had down here this summer."
DePaula said residents near the field have called police more than a dozen times during the past month. "It's an issue with two sides," he said. "It won't be going away for a while."
Peacemakers point out there are six other baseball diamonds within walking distance that could be used instead of the controversial two. There are 125 diamonds in the eastern section of the county, available since the baseball season and tournaments have ended.
Minority 'guiding' majority
Similar disputes occasionally erupt at other fields, but none are located so close to homes as the Sandy Plains diamonds. Many kids -- like George and Mike who use a tennis ball -- say the rule's unfair.
"Some older guys might hit it over the fence [about 280 feet], but not me," said George, a fair right-hander who is more likely to earn a living as an environmental scientist than a baseball player.
His pal Mike agreed. "Some adults seem to have nothing better to do than to call the cops on us," Mike said.
One adult who sympathizes with the teen-agers is Richard Klingenhofer, whose 16-year-old son Curtis plays on the field.
"This is a case of the minority guiding the majority, shaping policy," said Klingenhofer.
"One lady sits in her house and when people play ball she calls Pat Herman [the community association president], who calls the cops," he said. Not so, says Herman.
But Killmon thinks that five shattered windshields over three years, a few dented automobile hoods and "the nerve-wracking fear you have when you try to sit in your back yard with small children" should be enough for recreation officials and police to enforce the code.
"This isn't an issue that just cropped up and it isn't something that will go away," said Killmon, who moved here from Highlandtown 20 years ago. "It represents something that goes on in every neighborhood in the country, disputes that can't be solved."
For Neil Magness, area coordinator for Recreation and Parks, the issue is simply safety.
"We don't want to stop people from playing ball, that's not why we're in the business," said Magness. "But you don't want people to sit in their back yards and cringe.
"You think that it's such a silly, little matter until you see bags of baseballs and golf balls that have bombarded them," he said. "That's pretty strong testimony."
Pub Date: 7/21/98