January 19, 2009

Mailbox baseball

  The parents of all four boys think their kids are home in bed — asleep. Not this night. The boys agree to meet at midnight at their favorite teen hangout.
  The week before, they’d watched the 1986 video, “Stand By Me,” a coming-of-age story about four pre-teen boys. Now they plan to re-enact some of the “adventures” they saw on that video.
  They start in the upscale side of town, using baseball bats to pummel mailboxes. They call it “mailbox baseball.” If you knock a mailbox off its post, that’s a “hit.” Each mailbox the hitter fails to knock off its post is a “strike.” Three strikes and you’re out and the next batter is up.
  The boys hit over 50 mailboxes driving through one neighborhood. Next they decide to drive across the dam to the other side of town where they resume their game.
  Every now and then a bat breaks, but that’s okay, they’ve brought along plenty of extra bats. The boys zig and zag through several neighborhoods where they damage or destroy about 150 more mailboxes.
  The boys rotate the right front seat, “riding shotgun.” At one location on the outskirts of town, there are seven mailboxes lined up in a row. For that many mailboxes the boys stop the car and all got out. Each boy takes a turn swinging at the lineup of mailboxes until only scrap metal remains.
  Stopping the car turns out to be a serious mistake. A lady in a trailer across the road hears the boys bashing mailboxes. Using her birdwatching field glasses, she takes down the make of the car, the tag number and gets a fairly good look at the boys. Good enough to identify them. Then she calls 911.
  It’s daylight when sheriff’s deputies arrive at the home of the owner of the blue and white four-wheel. “Mind if we take a look inside the vehicle?” one deputy asks after giving the man a brief description of the “problem” they are investigating. Claiming “my son would never do a thing like that,” the man consents to a search.
  On the floor of the back seat deputies find the handles of two broken bats plus four other baseball bats that’re  all hacked up and marked with black and red chips of paint.
  Later, at Sheriff’s Headquarters, the boy who drove his father’s four-wheel is the center of attention. It isn’t long before he gives up the name of another boy. By noon all four boys, ranging in age from 14 to 16, are identified, questioned separately, and implicate each other.
  Detectives notify the postal service but there’s no apparent interest in prosecuting the boys. Because it was the first known offense for each of the kids, they’re put into juvenile arbitration where they are ordered to perform community service over the next 18 months. That means lots of yard work and sweeping sidewalks around government buildings after school and on weekends. Some $3,500 was spent by the boys’ families to replace damaged mailboxes.

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