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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

07/16/08 Justin Currytto: "The police can't pick sides but if they could, they'd be on our side."

County Fair: Field Reports

Fairfield Weekly

You've probably heard about the Whiffle Ball field by now.

Reporters from News 12, the three Greenwich newspapers, CBS News, the Associated Press and the New York Times have trudged through the neck of Riverside where a dozen teens cleared out brush in a town-owned drainage ditch, erected a plywood replica of Fenway Park's Green Monster and adorned it with American flags and Taco Bell ads.

Their goal? Play Whiffle Ball. Some neighbors' reaction? Hire a lawyer to remove them.

A steady stream of town officials (with 230 people in Greenwich's Representative Town Meeting, there are a lot of them) have visited the field, and it's attracted more passersby than a David Blaine hunger stunt. The teens say Massachusetts minor league team the Brockton Rox and marketing execs from Taco Bell itself have voiced their support.

"Pretend that the president was just here," Justin Currytto, 16, the unofficial leader of the group, whispered to us during an interview mid-last week, trying to trick a red-headed kid returning to the field.

On any given weekday, Currytto said, a dozen teenagers are around; on weekends, it's 40 or so. "Sometimes baseball players from the 1900s come out of the fence," Jeff Currivan, 17, joked.

When neighbors started telling them to get lost and taking their pictures for some presumed court case, Currytto went to the town government. "The police can't pick sides but if they could, they'd be on our side," he said. Indeed, one officer stopped by, not to relay any complaints, but to get the latest on the fate of the field.

A worried neighbor, who wouldn't give his name for fear of retribution (presumably in the form of being repeatedly tapped by yellow plastic bats) said, "We all love Whiffle Ball. I remember games with my brothers but the issue here is that private citizens cannot take public land and put it to their own uses. It sets a dangerous precedent. It's the first step towards chaos."

RTM member Dodie McCollem drove by and said, "I think this is the greatest thing kids can do... Would the neighbors rather see them in downtown Greenwich looking for drugs?" Another woman stopped and scoffed at the field, saying one of the teens in the group had broken into her house but she wouldn't identify the supposed perpetrator or herself.

When we returned on the weekend, the crowd (some drawn by the media attention) had grown with girls, pre-teens and kids from outside of Riverside added to the mix.

"There are other fields but I like this one because you can hit the ball over a wall," said tot Griffin Golden whose pro-field father drove him in from Old Greenwich.

And the neighborhood seemed media-ed out. "Neighbors are keeping to themselves," said Currytto. Buzz about the field was lodged into their Greenwich Time boxes daily and, when approached, residents seemed tepid to talk to another reporter. (You move to Greenwich to get away from the omnipresent media buzz of New York City, right?) "I think it's been played out," said Brendan Cullins, whose house is next to the field. "Most people on this block are fine with it; it's just a handful of people who are complaining."

A woman—later identified to us as Liz Pate, who told Greenwich Time "she has felt like a prisoner on her own property" because of the field—raised her hand and murmured, "please" when we approached her.

The end decision may rest with Greenwich first selectman Peter Tesei, who was also there on Saturday, meeting with the kids and generally "lowering the emotions; the tensions have mushroomed out of control." He says no one has legally threatened the town, that the wall presents a liability and the most likely compromises are the field staying but the wall going or the kids moving to a new locale. He hopes to reason with the angrier neighbors. "The one thing I have zero tolerance for is a lack of civility. Reasonable people can work out a compromise."

As for the media coverage? "It's sad that whenever the media focuses on Greenwich, Connecticut, they always treat it as a snobby, upper-class place" said Tesei, a fifth-generation Greenwich citizen.

Fair enough, but we will point out we talked to more than one maid or housekeeper when we knocked on doors.

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