Sluggers belt balls into residential area

Stephen Crawford likened the sound outside of his home to "rockets flying over."

This was about noon on Jan. 27, and the "rockets" were baseballs, which Crawford said repeatedly flew over the Laguna Beach High School baseball field fence and toward his St. Ann Drive home beyond center field.

Crawford said one ball missed him by about 18 inches.

On this day, Crawford walked over to see what was happening. A Laguna Beach High coach told him that a player from the San Francisco Giants was teaching Laguna players how to hit home runs.

"The coach was sincere and apologetic," Crawford said last week by phone. "He realized he made a mistake in allowing [a professional baseball player] to hit home runs on such a short field."

Concerned not only about his safety but that of his neighbors, Crawford spoke about the incident at the Laguna Beach Unified School District board meeting Jan. 28.

Board President Jan Vickers read letters from four residents, including Crawford, complaining about balls flying over the outfield fence.

"I'm a former baseball player myself," Crawford said in an interview outside the district office. "I think it's great for a pro to take time from his schedule but in an appropriate way. A home run in our case is a safety issue."

Crawford, who has lived on the street since 1979, said the frequency with which balls fly over the fence has increased since the field was reconfigured nine years ago.

Baseballs have left at least a half dozen dents in two of his cars, he said.

"Seventy-five percent of the balls that fly out of the field occur during the Laguna Beach High School baseball team's batting practice," said Crawford.

Marcia Hafif, who has lived on St. Ann's Drive for 14 years, said balls sporadically roll into her yard. Occasionally she sees players searching for them.

"I'll find them under the bushes," Hafif said. "My neighbor has barrels full of balls."

Though Hafif's house is set back from the street, she still has safety concerns.

"[Nine] years ago, there were big issues with the field changing directions, and we were getting a lot more balls," Hafif said. "When I moved here this field was not like it is now. It's a professional-[type] field. Teaching kids to hit balls over the fence is a safety problem."

Crawford and seven neighbors met Wednesday with several district and school administrators, including Laguna Beach High Principal Joanne Culverhouse, Athletic Director Mike Churchill, district Facilities Director Ted Doughty and head varsity coach Mike Bair.

"We recognized that having the professional baseball player there was extremely unacceptable," Culverhouse said. "Although having him work with students was extremely valuable, the mistake was seeing how many home runs he could hit. He went 10 for 10."

School administrators agreed to limit the time that players can take full swings at the high school field or move those hitting portions to Alta Laguna Park, Culverhouse said.

Another option would be for players to use the batting cages more often, she said.

"During practice time there's way too many balls going over the fence," Culverhouse said.

School and district officials will also explore the possibility of posting permanent or temporary signs to alert the public about the dangers of foul balls and home run hits, Culverhouse said.

Temporary signs could be brought out on game days to warn drivers of descending baseballs.

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