Chain link monster

Ahh, Little League baseball— preoccupation of our pre-pubescence, reminder of our romanticized youth, fodder for Bob Costas’ quasi-rhapsodic commentaries. Who could forget the hot summer nights of playing until dusk… the scent of freshly cut grass… the fit of broken-in leather gloves… and, of course, the big-ass chain link fence.
    Granted, most of our childhoods came without the mammoth fence. Fortunately for the kids of Charlottesville, their lives won’t be so incomplete, thanks to the renovations of the cumbersomely titled Darrell C. Gardner Field at Lane Park, home of the 13-15-year-old Babe Ruth League, nearing completion just in time for baseball weather.
    Those of you who haven’t driven down McIntire Road in the last few weeks are in for a surprise— a very tall surprise. The once-diminutive outfield fence, which reached roughly just four feet above the grass in days of yore, now towers a whopping 25 feet. What’s up?
    "Cars were getting hit by home runs and foul balls," says Tim Hughes, Albemarle County Athletics Supervisor. So the solution was simple: build a bigger fence.
    The burning questions of the hour: have errant fly balls really been that much of a problem? Problem enough to warrant transforming an (almost) idyllic community park into what looks more like an exercise yard at a State Penitentiary?
    Hughes says yes. Yes, they have been.
    "We get four or five complaints per year with damage ranging from dents to broken windshields," he says. "We’re really worried about breaking the windshields of cars driving down McIntire— it could cause a head-on collision."
Despite its location in downtown Charlottesville, the property is owned and managed by Albemarle County as a part of the old Lane High School complex.
When fence construction commenced, the County (which, it might appear, is a rookie at dealing with the City it surrounds) fouled out mightily on its first at-bat.
“They started putting it up without site plan approval,” says Jim Tolbert, director of Charlottesville’s planning department. “We asked them to try and make it less obtrusive, so they replaced the galvanized fencing with vinyl-coated fencing. They’re also going to plant some Leyland Cypress behind it to make it look better.”
    On a recent rainy afternoon, fencer Billy Orme of locally based Evergreen Fence was obliging enough to scramble down two stories of scaffolding in left field to deliver the scoop on Charlottesville’s vinyl-coated, chain link version of the legendary Green Monster at Boston’s Fenway Park.
    "This is the first one we’ve done that’s this big," says Orme, who has worked on several ballparks around town. "Usually just the backstops are this tall."
    In Orme’s professional opinion, are any 15-year-olds going to be able to smack one over the Lane Park behemoth? "I don’t know," he laughs. "Someone said a couple kids have knocked some over, but it’d have to be a pretty good shot."
    One thing’s for sure— if the Babe were alive today and batting in his namesake baseball league, you’d be ill-advised to put money on his calling a homer to left-center. At 352 feet distant and 25 feet tall, this fence would challenge the talents of even the Sultan of Swat.

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