Jaywalking: Youth ballpark no place for drug use

Monday, April 17, 2017

Just more than a year ago, I was pushing a stroller down the road near my house in the Greenfield Meadows with my young daughter riding shotgun and wife walking alongside.

As we crossed a small bridge just before Meadow Lane, we looked down and saw a hypodermic syringe lying on the side of the road. It was a troubling sight for someone who grew up just down the road and spent much of his childhood riding his bike and playing with friends in that area. A reminder that the world is continually changing.

We got another reminder in Greenfield this past Wednesday when needles were discovered in the youth baseball dugouts at Lunt Field in Greenfield. Recorder colleague Joshua Solomon spoke to Greenfield Police Lt. William Gordon last week and was told that three needles were initially discovered in the Lunt 3 dugout (closest to the Franklin Recovery Center), and more needles were later found elsewhere at the three-diamond complex.

Sadly, finding needles in Greenfield is not that big of a news item anymore. According to Gordon, since April 14, 2014, the Greenfield Police Department has logged 227 cases of needles being found in town, and 154 of those have come since April 14, 2015.

It’s one thing to find dirty syringes on the side of the road or in an alleyway off Main Street, but far more serious when they’re turning up at youth ballparks.

Many people on social media quickly turned their ire to the Recovery Center, which opened last July and is housed in the former Lunt Building abutting the fields. Many chimed in on social media that “it was only a matter of time” before something like this happened. But is there actually a direct correlation?

Lt. Gordon said there is a history of this at Lunt Field.

“Would I be frustrated? Yeah, I’d be frustrated,” he told Solomon. “But they’ve found needles way before the Recover Center. And we have this happen at other parks and pools, too.

“This is one of the reasons why the needle exchange is trying to form in Greenfield — to reduce this. … It could be at any other business in the area. It’s unfair to blindly blame an individual place, but we do understand why people feel that way.”

Bobby Campbell, Greenfield Minor League president, also said that this is not the first time the league has had to clean out dugouts.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Campbell explained. “Once a year we find some homeless person’s sleeping bag in the dugout, as they try to hide from the wind. This does not have anything to do with the new rehab center.”

I tend to fall on this side of debate. I had reservations about putting the Franklin Recovery Center in next to the youth fields, but I also believe that the fields have probably been used for getting high in the past, as have plenty of other parks, which are tough to patrol at night. Whether it’s someone shooting up, or a couple of romantic teenagers, parks and ballfields see their share of nightlife. Campbell said that Lunt 3 and Lunt 1 (the field closest to Davis Street) have always been the fields with a problem, likely because the inside of the dugouts in Lunt 2 can be seen from the road.

And perhaps someone who is checking into the Recovery Center will make a quick pit stop at Lunt Field to get high one final time, but I’m not so sure that anyone is walking out the doors and heading directly to the dugouts.

Either way, the Greenfield Minor League is taking steps to address this issue. Last week, coaches from every team spoke with parents and players. Campbell, who is diabetic, brought one of his insulin needles to show the children what to be on the lookout for and they were told what to do in the event they should find anything in the future.

“If there is a needle, or the kids see something in the dugout, they should go right to a coach,” Campbell said. “We are leaving bags and latex gloves at the field. That way, if anything does happen, we can take the appropriate steps to clean it up.”

The GML also ordered doors to be put on the dugouts at the field. Temporary doors were installed last week, and the permanent fixtures should be in place when the league celebrates opening day on April 30. That will make the dugouts impossible to access by anyone when the league is not taking place.

That’s unfortunate for the kids in the community. No more will children be able to show up at Lunt Field to play ball with their friends and have access to the dugouts. Not a huge deal, but one side effect of the drug epidemic in the area.

Mike Reid, who coaches in Turners Falls’ Newt Guilbault Community League, said the Newt League has never had any instances of syringes found at either of its two fields. The league does occasionally have to clean up vandalism at its fields, but has never had any problems with drug paraphenilia.

A number of the area youth leagues open this weekend, and the GML begins on April 30. It’s one of the signs of spring to see local ballfields filled with the smiling faces of the boys and girls playing baseball and softball on these fields. And hopefully baseball and softball players and the equipment they use is the only thing on these fields, and the drug paraphernalia disappears.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.