Sports Field Vandalism: How are Venues and Destinations Reacting? | Sports Destination Management

Sports Field Vandalism: How are Venues and Destinations Reacting?

Jul 20, 2023 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Chemical damage to the York Revolution's ballfield is only the latest in a nationwide problem of vandalism at sports fields. Photo courtesy of York Revolution.

The York Revolution’s recent announcement that their field had been vandalized was upsetting enough. The local ABC affiliate noted that between July 1 and July 5, a substance (currently being analyzed) was poured on the grass at the ballpark, causing huge patches of brown as the grass died off.


A reward of $5,000 is being offered (along with information on how to submit tips); unfortunately, say the officials, that’s only a portion of the damages.


“That reward amount is nothing compared to the potential costs required to restore the field,” York Revolution President Eric Menzer told ABC reporters. “We believe it will take tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to repair the damage to the field.”


He’s right. If a toxin has permeated the soil of the ballfield, remediation is incredibly expensive. And that means not just the minor league team is affected.

Sports Facility Vandalism
A photo of York Revolution field prior to the vandalism. Photo courtesy of York Revolution.


“This is absolutely an attack on the York community,” Menzer continued. “WellSpan Park is a true community resource. We hosted a huge, multi-day youth baseball tournament this past weekend, for example. We are hosting many events for a diverse group of area non-profits and businesses in the coming weeks and months. And then there is Codorus Creek, into which our field drains in wet weather. Whatever was put on our field could very well have ended up in the Codorus. This is not just a baseball issue. It is a York issue.”


According to Director of Marketing and Communications for the York Revolution, Doug Eppler, the damage is not simply aesthetic, since “We want to make sure that Atlantic League players are safe while they’re on the field [and] we also need to make sure that the little leaguers who use the field can do so safely."


And unfortunately, such acts have become more commonplace. Police in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania told a local news station they are searching for whoever is responsible for vandalism at a mini-football field. According to reports, suspects broke into both the announcer's stand and food stand at the Plains Yankees Field at Birchwood Park in Plains Township. Team officials say a door was smashed in, and graffiti was found on a bench. The organization was asking that calls be directed to the news organization’s tip hotline.


That might not sound like much. But sometimes, an anonymous tipline can be a powerful inducement, particularly when the reporting indvidual does not want to be associated with either the tip or the incident (or the culprit). 


Then there's the monetary reward aspect, as York is using, which has also come into its own. Back in 2017, for example, a memorial at another Pennsylvania field, Littlestown Baseball Field, was vandalized. A reward was offered but nothing happened. Then, a community member (who happened to be the father of the individuals whose memorial had been damaged) increased the reward. A juvenile (unidentified at the time because of age) was identified for playing a key role in knocking down the memorial. 


The problem of venue vandalism is going on from coast to coast. In Alberta, British Columbia, the Town of Sylvan Lake had to close its public restroom facilities near one sports field after a suspect (or suspects) damaged property. The year-round outdoor sports facility at Sylvan Lake, news reports noted, was left without a restroom until the damage could be fixed.


Sports Facility Vandalism
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame also felt the impact of vandalism in January 2022. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

But it’s not just youth fields and their amenities and accessories getting the damage. Consider the February 2023 case at Petco Park in early 2022 when a driver broke through locked gates with his vehicle and did donuts on the field.


The live video that was posted to social media after the fact makes it apparent the suspect had one thing in mind: malicious destruction.


According to news reports, the person made it from around the pitcher’s mound to along the outfield wall. One of Petco Park’s workers, Ryan Carlson, captured the scene on video after realizing the driver did not belong and said the person started “doing doughnuts.”


“After about a minute, he came to a stop, and a bunch of the grounds crew guys made their way to the car and did like a citizens’ arrest,” Carlson told the San Diego Union Tribune“It happened peacefully, wasn’t aggressive, at least as far as I saw.”


The driver, after realizing the way they entered the park was blocked off by members of the grounds crew, was arrested and charged with felony vandalism, according to the Union Tribune.


Occasionally, the damage will be the work of someone who simply can’t resist bragging about it to friends, as was the case when teens not only boasted about destroying property but did so on social media, leading to a quick arrest.


But sometimes, plain old guilt (maybe with a dose of fear) is enough to get someone to confess. Last year, residents of St. Marys, Ontario were enraged to find someone had broken into their beloved Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame during a snowstorm and ruined a flagship youth field by driving across it repeatedly, chewing up the grass and causing deep ruts.


In an interview with CTV News London, Scott Crawford, CBHOF director of operations said the damage was done on King Field, one of four premier diamonds at the attraction, which includes an onsite museum to Canada’s baseball greats. The field, made of natural grass, was originally installed in 2014 and had been painstakingly maintained to keep it in pristine condition.


Until, that is, someone broke into King Field by driving down an adjacent field, coming in through a gate and spinning circles repeatedly.


Field Damage
Another view of the damage to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame field. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

And yes, the culprits confessed once the HOF put out the word about the destruction and what it would cost to fix it. According to CTV News from London, Ontario, a group of youths ranging in age from 14 to 16 years old stepped forward to take responsibility for the damage to King Field.


Police involved in the investigation facilitated a 'Restorative Justice Conference' involving the youths, their families and representatives of the Hall of Fame.


Police note that the discussion opened up an avenue to a solution “which held the youth accountable for their actions, assists with reparations to the damages caused at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and helps the youth involved to learn from their actions.”


Officials with the Baseball Hall of Fame estimated at the time that it would cost several thousand dollars (and hours of work) to repair the vandalism, which is depended upon throughout the summer as a source of income. Apparently, the vandals were expected to be doing at least some of the work – or shouldering the cost for it. And along the way, they were likely to get an education in what it takes to repair and keep up a sports field so that it is suitable for play.


The damage was extensive, destroying more than half of the outfield and its irrigation system. And fixing it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Because the problems with the field could not be addressed until a permanent spring thaw, Scott Crawford, CBHOF director of operations, expected the whole field to be out of commission for an extended period. CTV News London noted that even with repairs, Crawford believed the field would not be the same for at least a season or two.


The cost of repairs would have been something the museum could not afford. Like many tourist attractions, it has taken a hit since 2020, with travel and gathering restrictions, according to Mayor Al Strathdee.


“They’ve been trying to upkeep them to be the premier diamonds in Canada. This diamond, in particular, is used for youth and the money’s got to come from somewhere. And they’re struggling for attendance already given the pandemic.”


The CBHOF sits on more than 30 acres and includes a total of four fields, including King. It hosts more than 950 events each year, including games for the Ontario Nationals, the PBLO, CPBL, London Men’s League, Great Lake Canadians, London Badgers, teams from Quebec and many others. 


But it’s not just sports that are affected by someone driving a vehicle onto grass. Sometimes, it's tourism and transit as a whole. In New York state, in the Adirondacks region, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise covered the fact that the town of Keene’s Marcy Field was vandalized.


That is an airfield, in case you didn’t know:


“Where there was once pristine grass over a scenic field and an open airport runway at the center of the town’s hamlet of Keene Valley, there is now several feet of torn up grass and deep tire tracks. The runway is now closed indefinitely, and pilots are being directed to the Lake Placid or Lake Clear airports through a Federal Aviation Administration system. This act of vandalism is the latest in a spate of vandalism on town property, according to town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr.”


The biggest problem, Wilson noted, is who would pay for the damage.


“I don’t know when it’s going to dry out enough to repair (the runway),” Wilson said. “I don’t know when I’m going to have the staff available to do it, and then to do the repair and reseed, grass won’t grow back instantly. It’s going to be hard to get even this usable in the near future. This is so significant and it’s not something we have experience with, with the extent of it. We really are waiting for the adjuster to get here to give us his estimate, and then we can really start putting together a plan.”

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