There’s nothing quite like walking out onto a freshly raked ball diamond on a crisp spring afternoon — squinting up at the sunlight and blindly walking into the freshly clipped outfield grass.
Nothing sours that moment faster than sinking your sole into a steaming pile of poop.
At its core, the debate over whether to lock town-owned and maintained baseball fields has stirred strong emotions on both sides.
Taxpayers want access to the fields, however taxpayers also want those fields to stay clean and clear of feces.
“After meeting with the high school baseball coach, softball coach and little league president, in order to ensure the integrity of the fields for their use, I’ve made the decision to lock all the fields, except one, to mitigate the damage,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. said Wednesday morning.
“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints,” Town Councilman Robert J. Civetti said at last week’s Town Council meeting.
“Why are we locking the fields and keeping the kids off?” he asked.
Those mounds of dog droppings are a primary reason why the town typically keeps baseball fields locked, according to Chris Correia, Johnston’s Director of Buildings and Grounds (and a retired police officer and former Director of Parks and Recreation), who responded at length to Civetti’s concerns.
“It’s kind of a hot topic year-to-year, relative to the fields, the locks, the security,” Correia explained. “We do our best to maintain the condition of the fields. So the significant challenges posed with open gates have been countless canines, running around on the fields, at all times of day.”
Disrespectful dog owners don’t follow the rules.
“They disregard signs, tear up the fields, frequently there’s dog feces on the field,” Correia said. “Parents don’t want their kids to step in or fall in said animal feces on the fields. Quite frankly, I’ve actually stepped in it myself when I’ve been there checking on the condition of the field … at Memorial Park.”
Padlock or Poop
Civetti said he’s noticed new padlocks on multiple fields in town.
“Why are those fields being locked?” He asked. “I’d like to request that the council get those locks removed.”
He said the children of Johnston “have to be able to utilize the fields.”
“They have basketball courts … they have rec centers they can go in … but now they can’t go out … onto a baseball field,” Civetti said last Tuesday. “Down there on Sunday, you see a father with his son or his daughter, looking to go out in the field and utilize it, and they can’t go on the field. So I’d like to have all locks removed from the baseball fields throughout the town.”
The fields are clearly posted: for use by permit only and no dogs allowed.
“Unfortunately a lot of people disregard the signs,” Correia said. “We put up a lot of signs. It’s a novel idea … in hopes that people would obey and adhere to the signage. But frequently they don’t.”
Correia took responsibility for locking the fields.
“In regards to the newer locks … I put those on myself; purchased them and put them on myself,” he said. “Because, again, frequently I’ve been out at the fields, just to assess the progress of the maintenance workers, the hard work of the … staff … and dogs all over the place … feces all over.”
Johnston regulates who uses the town’s fields, requiring permits that can be acquired by contacting the Recreation Department.
“Not to mention …. But there’s been countless occasions … there’s an inordinate number of people that show up and they don’t call or request a permit for usage,” Correia said. “Insurance obligations … people can’t just show up and do what they want in terms of engaging in whatever activity.”
Correia said he wishes “we had a wider … parcel in Memorial Park just for generic field activities, of any type, but we don’t.”
“Really it’s just a matter of security, and safety and protection of the town in terms of the property and (chance) of injury,” Correia said. “People disregard the signs … It’s just been year-to-year-to-year a significant issue. Field use by permit only. They don’t call for permits. They rip the signs down. There are signs that say ‘no dogs permitted.’ They’re still on the field.”
Correia recalled a recent interaction with one local dog owner:
“I had one gentleman, just recently a couple weeks ago, he had two large dogs … he actually said to me, when I addressed him … and politely advised him what the circumstances were ... but he actually said to me, ‘Yeah I saw the sign, but I saw that the first fine was only $25 so I figured why not, I’d pay it if I got caught.’”
That was “just an example,” of many, Correia said.
“Simply the condition of the fields, the money that we spent, the time that the guys take to prepare the fields, security and playing by the proper entities without incurring a substantial lawsuit when someone’s out there and they’re not permitted,” Correia explained. “If some people are upset about not being able to (use the fields), my sincere apologies there. But there are countless other people that don’t use it in a proper fashion and really debilitated the fields.”
Civetti argued against the policy.
“Again, what are these youths supposed to do when they want to go out?” He asked. “They had school vacation two weeks ago. You had a bunch of players from the high school that want to go down there and have a pickup game and they can’t play. So at a time while we’re trying (to get) the children out of the house and be active, we’re telling them they can’t use any facilities in this town. Why do we have a public park if it’s not for use of all children?”
“Councilman, I simply ask, that if there’s an organized request for activity, that they come into the office, or inform the office,” Correia replied.
“Neighborhood kids want to go out and play and you’re telling them there’s no place in Johnston they can play,” Civetti responded.
Civetti has coached baseball in town for decades.
“For 40-plus years I’ve been involved in the league and we haven’t had this problem,” Civetti said. “Now all of a sudden all the fields have to be locked. I think that’s wrong. I think we’re taking away from the children in this town, telling them to go other places … to play. Why don’t we lock the basketball courts, the tennis courts and the rec center?”
“I understand your concern, councilman,” Correia answered. “And again, as a sports fan, a parent and a coach, I sympathize with that.”
Correia has been following the mayor’s guidance on field-locking.
“The hardest piece of property to maintain within the town are the baseball fields,” Polisena said Wednesday morning. “Over the years, the Director of Buildings and Grounds has encountered numerous examples of people with dogs, dog feces, dirt bikes, trash, out-of-town leagues and other instances of the fields being destroyed after the crew preps it for our Town's organized leagues. The baseball fields are not to be treated like the blacktop basketball courts at the park.”
The town’s “locked fields may be used (free for Johnston residents, at a cost for out-of-town) with permission, as long as that use does not interfere with any organized town leagues,” Polisena said. “ Field 4 at Woodlake will remain open to the public, except during prep, as that field is used infrequently compared to the others. I also consulted Mayor Hopkins of Cranston, who practices the same policy for the same reasons. I would encourage anyone with a dog to use the actual dog park in the Town.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just dog poop clinging to players’ shoes.
“I think we have a bigger problem with the geese on the field,” Civetti said.
Correia said the town is hoping for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to address the geese feces problem.
Padlocks don’t stop geese.
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