Children and Youth

Thefts, vandalism continue to hit local youth leagues

After the latest flurry of break-ins and thefts, youth baseball and softball leagues will install cameras and lights in attempt to fight back after 12 years of criminal activity

On Aug. 9, someone broke into the Hollister Little League snack shack at Veterans Memorial Park on Memorial Drive for the second time in six months. Sgt. Don Pershall, Hollister Police Department's information officer, said break-ins, vandalism and thefts have been an ongoing problem at the park for some 12 years. He said the police patrol the streets, but because there are no lights in the back of the ballpark, people intent on breaking in can easily do so in the dark.

“A maintenance person found a lock on the fence had been cut and the snack shack lock had been pried open, as well, but nothing was taken,” Pershall said, adding that the incident is being listed as an attempted burglary. He said a number of years ago, juveniles had been arrested for similar break-ins, and that there have been adult suspects connected to incidents at the ballpark, but not recently. He said the motives range from vandalism to robbery. “The main thing in looking at these reports over the years going back to 2005, it seems to be an easier target because it’s out of the way. They’re looking for money or even food. They don’t keep money in there anymore, so it’s not a very productive crime.”

Mike Montoya, president of the Hollister Heat, a girls’ softball league for ages 4 to 16, said someone broke into their snack shack in early August. Someone broke the door and then took uniform shirts and burned other equipment in a barrel and also vandalized the inside of the building. He estimated the dollar value in having to repair the damage at about $850.

“The police came in and took fingerprints and noted the damage,” he said. “This won’t affect games. We just need to replace the door and we’re going to install a new metal gate in front of the snack bar so no one can kick it in.”

Montoya said the latest break-in is the third in a little over a year.

Greg Lopez, president of the San Benito County Babe Ruth League, said their facilities on the north end of the park were broken into in May, during the summer league. He said there was vandalism throughout the park, including graffiti in the tunnel adjacent to Hillcrest Road, as well as restrooms, snack bars, bleachers and an equipment shed.

“They broke all the locks of the doors of the equipment shed and there was baseball equipment stolen, as well as equipment used to maintain the fields, including a backpack sprayer and backpack blower,” he said. The blower was worth more than $600. “They climbed on top of the roof of the snack bar, ripped off the vent system and attempted to slip into the snack bar. They weren’t able to gain access because there was a piece of wood below that prevented them from entering, but the damage to the roof was significant.”

While the cost for repairs and materials could have been higher, Lopez said they were minimal because of all the volunteers who are involved in the program.

“They all specialize in various trades, like roofers and installation, so they were able to donate that stuff, but if I were to add up the costs from all the damages it would be probably $4,000 because a lot of it is labor,” he said. “These guys all donated their time and equipment into repairing these things. We were vandalized, but they had it up and running in 24 hours.”

The season wasn’t adversely affected other than having to replace the stolen maintenance equipment.

“We had to take all of that out of our budget,” Lopez said. “We rely on donations and volunteers and it hurts the program when we’ve got to take from the limited budget to replace stuff that people steal and damage. It’s frustrating.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that even though there are gates and fences around the entire park, it’s never really locked up. He said the recent vandalism was the worst he has seen.  

“After hours, it’s a free-for-all,” Lopez said. “If there was a way the county would allow us to lock those gates after hours, (potential burglars) can’t get their vehicles in there and they’d have to jump fence after fence and it would be much more of a deterrent.”

 He said the Babe Ruth League is surrounded by fences and officials have asked the county if they can lock the gates.

“We’ve been told no and that it has to be accessible to the community,” Lopez said, adding that because both county and league officials have limited staffs they can’t secure the gates at night because apparently no one is available to open them in the morning.

“And we can’t overwhelm law enforcement with patrolling that area every single night,” he said. “It just gets to be too much. We’ve discussed cameras, but if they have a mask on and we can’t identify them it does us no good.”

Lopez said there is a constant issue with juveniles roaming through the park at night and spraying graffiti, and damaging or stealing garbage cans.

“It just goes on and on, and it’s very frustrating,” he said. “You would think they’d have enough respect for the veterans that they wouldn’t do this.

Janna Esparza, Hollister Little League's information officer, said someone cut locks on two sets of fences, as well as a lock on an equipment box, and then kicked in a door. She said the person also broke a light between buildings.

“They were pretty determined, but they made more of a mess within two units, besides the vandalism,” she said. “They took six walkie-talkies, Challenger Division’s (a league for special needs children) uniforms, and the Challenger sound system. We play music for (the players) when they’re at bat, so it’s kind of a major league feel for them. They have their own music that they walk up to. That’s one of the big things these kids just love.

“These children have 10 games during the season and they play each other or the fire department or Veterans Commission. This is the second time this has happened to us. The first time, they cut through the chain-link fence towards the back, where the Babe Ruth League is. They went down the fence line and cut it. Whoever did it knew where to look. We think it’s people who live in the community and they’re clearly looking for something.”

Esparza said there are three nonprofits involved in the various youth baseball leagues and that all three have been hit. She said that after a recent board meeting (the same Perez mentioned), it was decided to install infrared cameras with Wi-Fi capability so the area can be monitored on cellphones.

“We want to make it so they don’t want to go there,” she said. “I believe we’re going to also be putting in more lights. The biggest issue is it’s just so dark. If you go out there after 10 o’clock once the adult leagues are done, it’s pitch black. It’s not just our field, it’s the whole strip, so we’re just trying to make it less convenient for them to go down there.”

The league is also thinking of installing signs announcing that cameras monitor the fields as an extra precaution because the fields are not monitored by patrols.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]