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Judge to Field Union Catholic Baseball Complaints

In the third installment of our series, neighbors say they are tired of errant fly balls landing in their backyards, but the dispute could end in a compromise that costs a few thousand dollars.

A $1.3 million renovation of the athletic fields at that has caused 25 months of acrimony among residents, launching a neighborly dispute into a legal battle – and banning baseball there in the meantime – could potentially be resolved for about $4,000.  

Residents of Black Birch Road and Dutch Lane, whose homes abut the baseball field’s first- and third-baselines, allege that since the new field opened April 1, 2010, more baseballs than ever before have been flying into their yards, threatening both lives and property. Residents have speculated that Union Catholic’s decision to replace its traditional curve-top backstop with a vertical fence – one that does not extend above or to the sides of batters – has contributed to the purported spike in errant baseballs.

Union Catholic administrators have disputed residents’ claims, but have nevertheless put forward two netting proposals, which they have asserted would shield the residents. Assistant principal and head baseball coach Jim Reagan estimated that each proposal – one, an 80-foot-high net along the first-baseline; the other, a complicated system of vertical and horizontal nets called a “horizontal ball containment system” – would cost more than $100,000 to construct. Neither Reagan nor Union Catholic’s attorney have been able to produce a photo of the horizontal netting system or identify a ballpark that uses it.

The design of the school’s athletic fields inherently demands a complicated solution, Reagan argued. A running track traces the outline of the athletic complex, severely limiting the space available for a backstop. A curve-top backstop cannot go inside the track because it would be too close to the batter. It cannot go outside the track because the sides would cut across the runners’ lanes.

Residents have asked about using a portable backstop – one on wheels, similar to those most often seen during batting practice at Major and Minor League Baseball games. However, those backstops, which cost about $4,000, “could never be used for games,” Reagan said in an interview Monday night. “For safety reasons, those portable backstops cannot be used at any level.”

Specifically, the portable backstops he said he examined would extend into the field of play, or would hang so low that pop flies would rebound off the netting and slam back down to the dirt before the batter, catcher or umpire had time to react. Reagan also expressed concerns about where the portable backstop could be stored.

“We would need a shed, a rather large shed at that. The major leagues, they have professional grounds crews [to move the backstops]. So there’s a lot of variables there.” He added, with a laugh, “I wish they could be used – that’s a $4,000 solution. That would be fantastic.”

One temporary backstop, however, is already in play in Union County. Rahway High School's team uses a backstop on wheels for its spring scrimmages at Veterans Field, coach Louis Romeo said.

Could the backstop be used during the regular season? According to Elliot Hopkins, baseball rules editor for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the umbrella organization for interscholastic high school sports, “Is it permitted? The answer is yes.”

Interscholastic baseball in the Garden State is governed by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Association (NJSIAA), a member of the NFHS. Larry White, assistant director of the NJSIAA and national baseball chair of the NFHS, said that, “as long as it’s safe,” a temporary backstop, “wouldn’t be prohibited.” 

White and Hopkins both said that temporary backstops at the high school level are exceedingly rare, largely due to their cost – prohibitive for most schools, but in this particular case, relatively little compared to overall cost of the field renovations at Union Catholic or the alternative netting proposals. They also shared Reagan’s concerns regarding safety: The two officials emphasized that the moveable backstop would need to be evaluated closely to ensure that it would not tip over or move during games, did not interfere with the field of play, and did not hang so low or so far over the batter’s box as to put batters, catchers and umpires in harm's way.

No representative of Union Catholic has contacted the NJSIAA office to inquire about a temporary backstop, according to White. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said during an interview with Patch on Monday. “I’ve been here six years, so I would’ve heard.” Reagan told Patch, however, that he has conducted research online.

From Bright Future to Clouds
Union Catholic played its first game on the new field on April 1, 2010 with a 10-0 win over Roselle Catholic. Over the previous 10 months, work crews had replaced grass with synthetic turf, regraded the field, installed French drains, built dugouts and permanent bleachers, and rubberized the running track. 

Some construction still remained – workers installed the dugout benches that morning, and equipment littered the parking lot – but the field’s opening represented, “a dream come true,” Reagan said in an interview that week. “The feedback from the alumni has been fantastic,” Reagan said. “The enthusiasm has been phenomenal.”

The school held an official grand-opening ceremony April 3, 2010. Through the end of the spring sports season six weeks later, Union Catholic’s baseball, softball and lacrosse players exalted in the new fields, bounding and diving across soft, slick turf emblazoned with the Vikings’ name and helmeted logo. 

Neighboring residents, however, proved less than thrilled.

“We just started to notice a tremendous number of foul balls coming into the backyard” – far more than before the renovation, said Heidi Terens, who has lived at 26 Black Birch Road, adjacent to the first-baseline, since 1993. “In spring 2009, there were a handful of balls. We would get 20 a whole summer…. Now, it’s closer to 100.” She keeps the baseballs in two large shopping bags.

Terens and her neighbors on Black Birch Road and Dutch Lane, which abuts the baseball field’s third-baseline, allege that since Union Catholic, a coed institution of about 760 boys and girls, renovated its athletic fields, they have become “prisoners in their own homes.”

“What’s the chances of being hit by a ball?” said Rajul Shah, who shares her home on Dutch Lane with her husband, and three children, ages 18, 11 and 2. “What’s the chance that you’re at thisplace at that exact time when a foul ball is hit? Okay? Nobody has the right to play that kind of game with my children. Nobody…. To them, it’s playing the odds. To us, it’s, ‘Don’t go outside when there’s a baseball game.’ It’s, ‘Don’t sit on the deck when there’s a baseball game.’ ‘Don’t use the pool when there’s a baseball game.’”

Shah, estimated that nine to 10 foul balls have fallen into her yard in each of the past two baseball seasons. Before the renovation, in the nine years that she and her family had lived in their house, only one foul ball had ever ended-up in her yard – it rolled across the property line from left field, she said.

Ginger Bishop, who lives with her husband at 28 Black Birch Road, located behind the first-base dugout and one of the oldest houses on the block, said “Depending on whoever’s pitching, I get nine to 10 balls on my property per day.”

The end of the high school’s spring sports season failed to bring any relief, residents said. Summer leagues that took the field, including three American Legion teams, a Police Benevolent Association softball league, and a baseball camp hosted by Union Catholic, allegedly continued lobbing foul balls into backyards.

“Every time I heard the ball hit the aluminum bat, I would cringe,” Terens’ husband, Bill, said. “It was almost like a reflex, ‘Here it comes.’ My daughter wouldn’t come out. She’s 13.”

No residents, however, have reported that they or their property have been harmed by errant fly balls. Moreover, project engineer Daren Phil, vice president of Suburban Consulting Engineers, Inc., asserts in an affidavit filed in response to the temporary restraining order June 28, 2011, that although new dugouts, bleachers and bullpens expanded the field’s footprint to within 15 feet of neighbors’ backyards, the diamond was actually moved farther from the property line. Whereas home plate was once as close as 18 feet to the nearest property (30 Black Birch Road, located directly behind home plate), Phil claims it now sits 40 feet from the nearest backyard.

Phil and Reagan also attack the residents’ theory regarding the backstop. The previous, curve-top backstop “was only approximately 12 feet high and DID NOT cover home plate,” Reagan writes in an affidavit also filed with the court on June 28. “The only foul balls that hit into the backstop were balls that went directly backwards into it. The Shahs’ property is adjacent to the left-field foul line. The backstop did nothing to prevent foul balls from reaching the Shahs’ property. The new ‘vertical’ backstop is approximately 20 feet high and catches many more foul balls than its predecessor.”

Hence, Reagan concludes, residents’ claims regarding the purported increase in foul balls “cannot be more blatantly false.”

Nevertheless, starting in December 2010, Reagan, principal Sister Percylee Hart and associate principal Karen Piasecki offered three screening proposals, the first of which was the installation of an 80-foot-high net to protect the two homes on Black Birch Road that directly abut the first-baseline (in high school, most foul balls land on the first-baseline because most student athletes are right-handed). The offer remains on the table, Reagan said. Hart and Piasecki declined to comment for this series.

Reagan, Hart and Piasecki put forward the proposal after months of increasingly acrimonious exchanges between the school and its neighbors, most notably a lawsuit brought against the school in July 2010 by Shah, the Dutch Lane resident, and her husband, Sachin, in which they are represented by Scotch Plains resident Marc Rogoff. The lawsuit, filed 13 months after the construction began, asserts that the construction permit for the project never should have been issued because the renovations violate township land-use laws. On Aug. 20, 2010, Union County Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy dismissed the suit, stating that the statute of limitations had expired. That dismissal is now on appeal.

The Rancor Intensifies
Even before Cassidy heard oral arguments and delivered her ruling, Shah and her neighbors called the police shortly before 10 a.m. Saturday, July 24, 2010, to report what they perceived to be a noise violation. The school, hosting an annual, weekend-long summer baseball tournament, was using a speaker system to play music and make announcements during each of the eight games. 

“What really bugged me is that, in between every inning and half-inning, there was loud music. Every player was announced that came up to bat. And every home run was announced. So do the math. How many interruptions?” Shah said. “I don’t sit and watch them to say, ‘Oh, can I call the police now?’ I don’t do that. I’m too busy. But that weekend, with all the noise, we couldn’t even sit in our kitchen. We couldn’t have quiet.”

Assistant principal and baseball coach Jim Reagan, however, argued, “We’ve held that tournament since 2000. The same number of games, same number of teams, same format, same times for the first pitch of every game, every summer.” No other noise complaints were reported during any of the previous tournaments, he said.

The police officer who responded to the field stated on his incident summary that the “announcements were not exceptionally loud.” With the officer’s report in hand, and frustrated by months of litigation with neighbors, Reagan said he was in no mood to compromise, such as by reducing the number of songs or announcements.

“We were constantly being harassed and harangued by certain neighbors,” he said. “I got to tell you, when the police come and say there’s no issue whatsoever and you can continue using the system, I think that that’s appropriate.” 

Nearly one year later, Bill and Heidi Terens, who have lived at 26 Black Birch Road since 1993, looked back on that weekend with fury. “We woke up to it that morning,” Heidi Terens said. “The teams were from Flemington and Robbinsville. We are sitting here, we live here, and the teams are from 45 minutes away. We’re trying to have conversations with guests sitting right here, with a baby and a 2-year-old that we couldn’t let off the porch because of the balls.”

All this and more was brought up by the Terenses, Shahs, Reagan and others at the Aug. 17, Sept. 7 and Sept. 21 meetings of the Mayor and Township Council. Union Catholic’s neighbors, students, parents, educators and administrators packed the Municipal Building courtroom, exchanging comments at length about the issues of noise, foul balls and the application the school submitted to the Planning Board in May 2010 to construct 60- to 80-foot-high stadium-style lights and a scoreboard.

Reagan emphasized that the lights would extend the use of the field. Not only would they allow Union Catholic teams to hold games and practices into the late-afternoon and early evening during the fall, when the days grow darker earlier, but they would also allow more non-Union Catholic teams to take advantage of the facilities, such as the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Youth Baseball Association, Soccer Association, Lacrosse Club, the Scotch Plains PBA softball team and three American Legion teams. The school does not charge the teams fees to use the fields, he said.

However, the three American Legion teams are all affiliated with Union Catholic – one is coached by Reagan, himself. In addition, administrators for the four other recreational leagues that Reagan cited say that the availability of Union Catholic’s fields has noticeably decreased since the renovations were completed.

“Before the renovations, as long as there wasn’t a Legion game going on, or if they didn’t have soccer practice going on, we would play,” said Scotch Plains Detective Jason Everitt, the head of the department’s Police Benevolent Association softball team, which typically uses the baseball field on Wednesday nights. “Last year, we played only one game on there…. They had some issues where they had some events going on that coincided with our home games.” He noted that, prior to the temporary restraining order issued June 8, the team had not played any games this season due to a lack of players.

League officials also speculate that Union Catholic teams use the field more frequently or for longer periods because turf, unlike grass, does not need to be “rested” to be maintained.

Reagan, however, contends that Union Catholic has not changed its field schedules. “The use of the field has stayed the same,” he stated. “In total numbers, we do not have more teams now that we have turf. We have the same amount of teams. We might even have less. It’s not like we have now added, let’s say, five more baseball teams and two cricket teams.”

Nevertheless, at the council meetings, Reagan promised that he, Piasecki and Hart would examine netting and landscaping plans that might prevent foul balls from flying into neighbors’ yards.

That pledge was again made two months later, when Scotch Plains Township Attorney Jeffrey Lehrer organized a summit meeting the evening of Monday, Nov. 29, that included the mayor, the township manager, Rajul and Sachin Shah, Heidi and Bill Terens, Reagan, associate principal Piasecki and principal Hart. Neither the residents’ nor the school’s lawyers were invited.

“I thought that reasonable minds could come to a solution to this,” Lehrer said. 

He also reached out to Vito Gagliardi, the father of two sons at Union Catholic and a member of the school’s sports committee. Although Gagliardi is an attorney, Lehrer said, “I called him in because I believed him to be a reasonable person…. I felt he could be a voice of reason for the school.”

Before the meeting, Lehrer informed the Shahs and the Terenses that Gagliardi was a lawyer. “We went in fully knowing, full disclosure,” Shah said. “We went in good faith. We said, ‘Let’s talk. Let’s see if we can work something out, get this over with and move on.’”

The neighbors aimed to establish “that it would be written…that there would never be lights there,” Shah said. “Aggressive landscaping to shield us from the lack of privacy and muffle some of the noise. And they would take care of the foul ball issue.”

However, less than 10 minutes into the meeting, “They said they would not give up on the lights,” Shah recounted. “We said, ‘Do you know what it will do to our property values?’ And they had no response.”

It was Gagliardi who did virtually all of the talking for Union Catholic, Shah, Terens and Lehrer said. Although he did not yield on the proposed stadium lights and scoreboard, he did state that Reagan, Piasecki and Hart would address the matter of foul balls.

Shah, however, allegedly continued to press for more. “Rajul was the one doing the most speaking,” Lehrer said. “She wanted a million things. They were really beyond what the meeting wanted to address.”

As Gagliardi described, “It was really, where vans are parked, things leaning against the shed that have been there for decades, they just went on. It was not a focused approach, respectfully, to resolve the disputes.”

Ultimately, reference was made to a foul ball solution that involved both nets and landscaping, Lehrer said, but no firm plans were proposed. The meeting produced little else, and another one was not scheduled.

Netting Proposals
In the weeks that followed, Union Catholic put forth its netting proposal, which called for the net to be installed within the 15-foot buffer that remains between the Terenses’ yard and the baseball field’s bullpen. Terens and Bill said that they rejected the netting proposal out of hand.

“That’s right out our bedroom window,” Terens said. “I don’t want to look at an 80-foot-high – if they had done this right from the first step, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Reagan and Union Catholic attorney Bill Butler, who lives at 15 Black Birch Road – three houses from the Terenses and within sight of the school’s athletic fields – counter that the Terenses “chose aesthetics over safety.” But the couple maintains that appearances should not be minimized. 

“They come, they play baseball, they go home,” Terens said. “This is where we live. This is our home.” She added that for the nets to be installed, “They said, ‘We’ll need access through your yard’” and cut down the four to six trees that line rear edge of the backyard. “There’s no way that their lack of vision from the beginning becomes our problem now.”

Lehrer, the township attorney, sided with the Terenses. “The Plan to install netting at a height of 80’ above the Terens is not an acceptable solution,” he wrote in a letter to Union Catholic attorney Bill Butler dated March 18, “since such netting would require variances to install within the 100 feet [sic] buffer and more importantly does not address the overall neighborhood issue of errant baseballs in the neighborhood. A more appropriate solution would be to remedy the problem at its source; namely, to install a backstop which inhibits the propensity for errant baseballs.”

Lehrer concluded, “If Union Catholic does not take immediate steps to remedy this problem, the Township of Scotch Plains will consider all appropriate actions necessary to protect the safety of its residents.”

Union Catholic ignored the letter.

Its teams continued to play baseball and softball on the fields, an act that Shah said she finds galling. “When you see that kind of attitude coming from the people, you’re, like, ‘God, there’s no limit.’”

Lehrer, however, said he was unperturbed and, in fact, unsurprised. In an interview at his office in Warren, he explained that the letter had accomplished its goal: it did not stop the school from playing baseball, but it sufficiently caught the attention of Butler and school officials, who soon proposed installing not a curve-top backstop, but another type of netting.

Phil, the project engineer, produced for Butler a computer rendering of what he called a “horizontal ball containment system” – a complicated arrangement of nets stretched horizontally and vertically between four poles on the first and third baselines that would range in height from 60 to 80 feet. Butler estimated that it would cost $150,000 to $175,000 to construct.

Lehrer sent a short letter to the Terenses, dated May 10, 2011, that enclosed Phil’s computer rendering. He writes, “I was unable to identify the specific name of this system. Please note that the Township Council endorses this concept.”

Terens says she and Bill found the letter at once laughable and infuriating. “I was pissed. I said, ‘Jeff, don’t send me a rendering. Have somebody find me an example on the web. Give me a ballpark where it’s used. I want to see what it looks like.’”

Lehrer, Butler and Reagan, however, have not been able to produce a photograph of the supposed system or identify a single field or ballpark that uses it. Whether it would effectively stop foul balls – or even prove structurally sound – remains an open question.

In addition, as with the first netting proposal, erecting the horizontal ball containment system could require construction workers to enter Union Catholic’s property through the Terenses’ yard, Reagan said, and it also would not address the issue of aesthetics, which Shah and the Terenses argue could be solved with what they call “aggressive landscaping:” two to three rows of tall, densely-planted coniferous and deciduous trees that would screen the field, block balls and muffle noise.

“If they had put a good landscape buffer up to begin with, the issue of the balls would not be done away a hundred percent, but it would be no worse than it was in the past,” Bill said. “And all the issues – frequent use of their field by outside facilities, all the noise – that all would’ve been helped tremendously by some simple landscaping, and it was never in their plan.”

Butler and Reagan state that they did, in fact, send the Terenses a “fully-developed landscaping plan.” The Terenses, however, described it as merely the vague outlines of a proposal. “They’ve shown us pictures of landscaping – of their ‘future landscaping plans,’ Bill said. “There’s no such thing as a ‘future-landscaping plan.’ It’s either in your plan or it’s not.”

Notably, this is where the Terenses’ and Shahs’ objectives diverge. Bill and Heidi Terens say they would simply like the volume and frequency of errant foul balls to return to their pre-renovation levels.

“If you move next to a school, there are going to be beer bottles in your yard, and there’s going to a stray kid in your yard, or a baseball, and there will occasionally be a baseball game or a soccer game or some noise,” Bill said, a comment that was echoed by Bennett, of Dutch Lane, and Bishop, of Black Birch Road.

Rajul Shah, on the other hand, repeatedly stated that she and Sachin are seeking “100 percent safety” – a goal that experts say is practically impossible to attain.

“I don’t know how anyone could achieve that anywhere in their normal life,” said attorney Alice Beirne, counsel for the West Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Stuart Deutsch, a land-use expert and former dean of the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, agreed. “That sounds nice, but that’s probably unreasonable for her to demand,” he said, noting that these types of complaints are frequently brought against golf courses. “There are lots of times the courts have held, ‘Well look, you bought a house next to a golf course, knowing that you bought a house next to a golf course. What did you expect to happen?’”

Nevertheless, Union Catholic’s baseball team did try another tact to address the issue of foul balls: it began holding batting practice inside the bullpens, which, ironically, created yet another issue: noise – the sharp, metallic ping of an aluminum bat striking a ball, over and over again.

“It’s like being in an arcade,” Terens said. “We can hear it in every room of our house.” Players and their parents, she continued, have at times gone to hit balls in the bullpen as early as 7:15 a.m.

Reagan, faced with the noise complaint, expressed exasperation. “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” he said. “We’re working really hard, we hear what the neighbors are saying, and we are working very hard to accommodate their concerns. They say there are foul balls, and we hit inside of an enclosed batting cage…. It sounds like it’s still not enough from the neighbors, and that seems to be a theme here.”

A Letter, a Zoning Board Ruling and a Second Lawsuit
The neighbors will get their say in court today.  Last month, Rogoff filed a second lawsuit on behalf of Shah, this time naming Union Catholic as the sole defendant. Arguing that the foul balls pose a nuisance and immediate danger to public safety, he filed for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit Union Catholic from “permitting or engaging in any baseball-related activities on their athletic field(s).” On June 8, Malone approved the request, pending a final hearing that is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“I was relieved,” Shah said, a comment echoed by the six other families who border the baseball field. “But this really isn’t – the whole situation is not good. It’s not ideal. The kids can’t play, we’re fighting with the school. It’s not the way I like to live, or my husband. We don’t believe in all of this. We believe you just take care of your family and the people around you and you just treat others the way you want to be treated. I wouldn’t want my kids to be playing ball with everything going in the other yard and potentially hurting somebody. We just want the same courtesy. And quite frankly, we haven’t gotten it.”

The breaking point, she said, came when an errant foul ball came crashing down onto her rear deck, allegedly landing just two feet from where her 2-year-old son was sitting with the family’s nanny.

“It landed two feet from my baby,” Shah said, her voice cracking. “There’s a reason this was not filed sooner. Because we do not want their kids to suffer. Because we thought they would take care of it. But after a second baseball season, we were not going to go through a second summer of having assault after assault.”

Shah sent a photo of the ball to Lehrer, school officials and the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch. She says that she also called the police to verify the location of the ball, as she has with others that had previously fallen especially close to her house, her family or her guests.

Butler and Reagan, however, question the timing of the second lawsuit. They point out that it comes after Judge Cassidy’s dismissal of the first lawsuit – which did not make mention of foul balls – Union Catholic’s decision to continue playing baseball despite Lehrer’s cease-and-desist letter of March 18, Lehrer’s subsequent endorsement of the horizontal-netting proposal, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s denial of the Terenses’ application to bar outside groups from using the baseball fields.

“They’ve lost in the board of adjustment, they’ve lost in court, and it’s still not enough. I don’t know what is enough for the neighbors,” Reagan said. “There seems to be a desperate attempt to find something else, something new.”

Butler added, “If it’s so dangerous, why are the kids out there? What, do we play baseball everyday out there? So that’s a lot of B.S. about that – about the kids.” 

Heidi Terens, in response, was flabbergasted. “‘Why are we outside? Why are we outside?’ Why do you think we’re outside?” she said, waving her arm toward her family’s backyard, which includes an in-ground pool, manicured green grass, and one half of a basketball court. “Why wouldn’t we be outside?”

As Shah argued, “We do have a right to enjoy our home and our property undisturbed.”

Butler, however, referred to the foul ball complaints as a “scheme” and offered another theory: “They don’t want to solve the problem. They just hate Union Catholic.”

The Road Ahead
To walk the grounds of Union Catholic Regional High School today is to see the image of a neighborhood divided – two communities that had grown-up alongside one another for nearly half a century, plunged into a lengthy legal struggle over a baseball field.

Twenty feet left of the field’s third-baseline, plastic orange fencing – the kind most often seen at construction sites – runs the length of the property line between the school and the Shah’s home at 4 Dutch Lane – the result of mutual trespassing allegations made by the Shahs and school administrators. Behind home plate, among a shady copse of tall trees, a foreboding black and orange sign, stapled to a tree trunk, declares that 30 Black Birch Road is “Private Property.” On the first-baseline, in a shallow ditch that separates a bullpen from the home of Bill and Heidi Terens at 26 Black Birch Road, wooden stakes tied with fluorescent orange ribbon demarcate the outer boundary of the couple’s backyard. 

For now, in the absence of summer baseball, the field is quiet. When school officials, the Shahs and their respective lawyers appear before the court Tuesday, however, that may change – the restraining order could be lifted or extended. Either way, one group will almost certainly go home unhappy.

There remains, however, the apparent possibility of a relatively low-cost compromise: a mobile backstop, either a moveable extension of the current fencing that encloses the athletic complex field, an entire backstop on wheels, or something else altogether. It would not address the issue of stadium-style lights – Reagan has remained adamantly in favor of their installation and said the school plans to apply to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the necessary waivers. But a portable backstop could present a solution to at least one of the major grievances between neighbors and the school.

Finding a backstop that fits the safety requirements set forth by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and the National Federation of High School Associations would likely prove to be a challenge – virtually all portable backstops are designed for batting practice, not in-game use.

The real question, however, may not be in the backstop’s design, but in whether school administrators and residents, entrenched in their opposition, would agree to the compromise. The first step toward finding out will take place 10 miles from the 30-acre swath of Scotch Plains in which this drama has played, at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.

This is the third installment of a three-part series. To read Part One, . To read Part Two,. To read a short overview of the entire series, . To see the accompanying editor's note, .

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