E-mail Rick
Video: Field of Dreams

Jan. 16, 2006

If it's O.K. to build a lighted tennis court or a big swimming pool in your yard, why not a baseball diamond?

Would you be upset if your neighbor's kid and his friends started playing baseball next door?

Can America’s pastime only be played in parks?

Recently, I met up with Bill Maier and his 10-year-old son Billy, at the site of the new home he is building in the rural town of East Amwell, New Jersey, which is about 75 minutes outside of New York City.

Maier bought 10 acres, which is a big piece of property. Woods border his back yard. He's building a large four-bedroom house in the center of the land, and in the corner of the front yard, he had a landscaper grade the property and begin building a baseball field. Maier wasn't going crazy with it — no bleachers, no fences, no foul poles, no dugouts, no pitching machines, no batting cages — just a pitcher's mound, dirt base paths, and a collapsible backstop he planned to store in a shed. He planted trees along the property line that would eventually hold back the foul balls and provide some privacy. He figured he'd coach his kid and maybe host some pickup games with Billy’s friends. The boy is already making all-star teams, and can apparently throw a 62-mph fastball.

But when neighbors saw the field taking shape, they called the town to complain. There's a good bit of space between the homes, all built on one to 10 acres, but the first and third base lines are within about twenty feet of the property line (Maier says this was the most logical and level place to put it).

The zoning inspector came out, examined the site, checked the town law, and decided Maier was in fact in violation. In all of the paperwork Maier filed with the town, there is no mention of a baseball field or "personal recreation area." No site plan, map, or other depiction. No suggestion there would be anything more than grass on the lawn of his home, deck, and pool.

Maier says he didn't think it was a big deal, and he DID file the paperwork for the grading of the property, even though it wasn't required. The town issued a cease and desist order and threatened fines of $500 a day. Maier stopped work on the ball field and hired a lawyer.

The town's position is this: baseball is not a solitary sport, and baseball fields are not normally found in residential neighborhoods. Documents relating to the case point out a game requires 18 players, and could draw parents, spectators, and their vehicles, along with the "loud, distinctive pinging sound of the aluminum bats striking the baseball." Also, the "cheers, jeers, and exhortations of the coaches, players, and spectators are not noises which are ordinarily and customarily associated with a single-family residence."

Maier says he wasn't planning big, regular games. He pointed out a large trampoline and play-set in one neighbor's yard, and said another had a racecar in the garage that the man worked on from time to time, suggesting the engine noise would be louder than any game ever played. Basketball and volleyball courts are apparently O.K. too.

A public hearing is planned, and court action could follow. The zoning inspector who made the original determination is gone, and a new one hasn't been hired yet, so part of the process is on hold and so is the construction of the field. Maier says he plans to fight this battle as far as it takes. Even though he could probably just play on the grass and avoid the hassle, he says he won't take the easy way out.

"I’m a very principled individual," he told me.

"If I feel that I’m absolutely correct in my assumptions and my beliefs, if I’ve proven that by consulting with professionals who are aware of what the rules and laws are and they clearly tell me that it's within my right to play baseball in my yard, then I will take it as far as it needs to go in order for my son to be able to play baseball."

"So you're gonna fight this all the way to the top?" I asked.

"Yes", he told me, "and my sincere hope is that won't be necessary. My sincere hope is that when they find out exactly what we're doing and what our intentions are, they're going to realize that they wasted a lot of the taxpayers money and that the neighbors wasted a lot of their time."

We'll keep you posted on this one.

E-mail Rick

I'm grateful that the people in my neighborhood didn't act like Maier's neighbors. We had a large baseball/football field at my home. And yes, we often played their from sunup to sundown. Those memories are among the finest of my life. I often wish I could return to those carefree
days of youth. We didn't need AAU teams or structured leagues to enjoy our favorite sports as kids do today. Perhaps his neighbors would rather have the kids playing video games or wandering the streets looking for trouble. I admire Mr. Maier for giving these kids the same
chances I had as a child.

Jeff
Indianapolis IN


Dear Rick,

I think that Bill Maier should be the Grand Marshall of the town parade! Hurray for parents that are involved in the life of their children. Mr. Maier may also be a positive influence on others in the neighborhood.

Kim
Shipman, VA


There are too many kids sitting at home playing videos rather than getting exercise I think this is a good thing. Bill Maier you keep going, hang tough.


Cory
Jacksonville Texas


Rick,

I can not understand why anyone would protest such a thing. . This man owns this property and should have the right to play with his children if he wants to. You can have noise swimming, playing basketball, playing football or just having a barbeque in your backyard with friends and family. Let this man enjoy his property and his family.

Denise
Millington, MI



Rick, I would much rather grieve over my children shooting their friends, smoking crack and crystal on the corners, beating their parents, listening to that BOOM BOOM BOOM of their souped up systems. Than hear the cheers and encouraging shouts from friends and family's having FUN.Build the field! Build the self-esteem! Build the bonds of old time neighborhoods!
We are bombarded daily with news of the horrific behavior of the Youth in America. Often times you hear "whatever happened to the GOOD OLE DAYS. Tell the sour, crotchety, single minded, selfish neighbors to move if they object.

Suzette

Rick,

I am the code enforcement officer for a rural county in California and I think the neighbors should build a bridge and get over it!

Many people here have parcels that are 2 to 40 acres (some even bigger)and quite a few of them have put in motor cross tracks in their front yards. Now how would his neighbor like that!

Lewis
Susanville, CA


Hey Rick,

Remember the good old days when neighbors not only knew but liked and hung out with each other? Remember when kids played outside all day and were fit and happy? Who wouldn’t want those times back? Apparently this guys jaded neighbors. What a shame to be so worried about your property value that you’ve forgotten what’s really important in life; family values. I don’t know about you but I long for the good old days.

Cheri
Lansing, MI


About the time I was ten, my Dad, other Dads in the neighborhood, and the local kids started to transform our backyard into a "Field of Dreams" (pre-Kevin Costner). We used sickles, scythes, and eventually lawnmowers (push - not self propelled) to cut the infield. Over time, driven by too many lost balls, we cut down the outfield too. Chicken wire strung up between two poles served as a backstop.

Daily, we had neighborhood games in our field. Kids of varying ages, sizes, and abilities would play. Sometimes the Dads played too. Regardless of the final outcome (some games ended early due to darkness or suppertime), we all had a chance for some good, clean, active fun.
Our field of dreams doesn't see much if any action these days, but she still keeps it cut.

Sandy
Del Rio, TX


Maier should consider running for zoning inspector. That way the whole town can become corrupted with *gasp* personal baseball fields!!

Jay


If I bought out in the country and built a house, I would do it for the quiet of the countryside. A baseball field does not belong in this area. That is what we have public fields for. I would be very angry if I was his neighbor. Just because you love your kid and his friends doesn't mean that every one does nor do they want the noise from them. I spent years at soccer, baseball, football, and other sporting games. I would never have infringed a baseball diamond on my neighbors. I think the father is being very inconsiderate, and if I were his neighbor I would file a
complaint too. Whose wants all that noise and traffic in their neighborhood.


Karen
Oregon



It’s sad when a person can’t even share a pastime and precious moments with his family without incurring some sort of difficulty. People today do not realize how lucky they are the live in the places that they live in. I came from a very rough neighborhood where gangs and drugs ruled everything. I can’t count the number of times I got jumped because I liked sports (especially baseball) and studied for college. Now that I have my degree, not to mention, having been an All-State catcher in TX, I have a family of my own and I hope to God that I have neighbors that would take the time to dedicate their time and money to something that gives children something to do in a positive fashion. To those of you that would be PO’d if someone did that in your neighborhood, you should be ashamed, why can’t you people let go of your material possessions so kids can have some fun. I am having a house built and I would be proud to be your neighbor Bill Maier. Keep up the fight. If possible, give us your address and my wife and I would be more than happy to make a donation to your legal “Let them Play” fund…Take care and God Bless..

Gabriel
San Antonio, TX



Rick, who does this guy think he is? If he has his way, kids will be having clean, wholesome fun and getting exercise. He will be depriving them of the normal things parents want for kids these days such as joining gangs, doing drugs, drinking, and having permarital sex. The nerve!


Steve
Hannibal, MO


Who wants a baseball field in your next door neighbor's yard unless you're 8 years old? If I spent a half million bucks(and that's cheap in Hunterdon County) for a house, you bet I'd be po'd too. He can plant all the trees and alike he wants for "aesthetics," i.e. to hide the eyesores, the bottom line is we have access to a multitude of municipal fields throughout Hunterdon County. It's one of the few things of open space we have left. I'm sure he can do his tutoring there, or in the ridiculous enclosed bubble field at a local health club in Flemington. His good "intentions" now can turn into unenforceable nightmares in the blink of an eye.

Dave
Hunterdon County, NJ


Rick,

I thought a man’s home was his castle, apparently not. It’s his castle unless the neighbors don’t like baseball. It’s his castle unless local government doesn’t like baseball. It’s his castle unless a developer with more money than he has wants to take it from him against his will….forcefully. It’s his castle unless he comes outside to do anything on his own property that someone who doesn’t pay the mortgage objects to! Land of the free, I think not ! Home of the brave…..we’ll see.

Sean
Trenton, OH

Rick,

I like this blog. This raises a very good question about the baseball field he wants on his land. I liked the movie Field of Dreams. The controversy kinda puts a new spin on the movie and putting a baseball field in with no questions asked.

"If you build it, they will come." If you can build it! I love that movie! It's so hopeful.

Caroline
San Diego, CA


Just read your blog on Mr. Maier building a baseball field on his property. I side with the neighbors on this one. I don't care how far apart the properties are it will become a noise nuisance, crowd nuisance. Kids love baseball and I can see them playing baseball there from the time they get up until the time they go to bed. Before you know it Mr. Maier will be putting stadium lights in so they can play night time games. There will be no peace whatsoever for anyone on that block. Mr Maier is thinking only of himself and not his neighbors around him. The baseball season starts in April and ends in October. So would Mr. Maier's.

Christina
New Jersey