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Errant baseballs land in their yard
Irv and Lynne Wilson unload their cache of baseballs – plus a couple of tennis balls and one golf ball – that have landed in their backyard last year and this year. The balls are coming from the Ernie Tafoya Field at Valverde Park which is just behind their property on Thomsen Street. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP – Irvine and Lynne Wilson are not baseball collectors. But, as of Monday, they are the not-so-proud owners of a collection of about 40 balls including at least one golf ball and two tennis balls.

Their collection is courtesy of the many young baseball sluggers who have been playing at the remodeled Tafoya Baseball Field at Valverde Park in Lathrop for about two years.

Irvine Wilson shared his collection with members of the City Council at their meeting Monday night. He carried his haul in a royal blue bag, depositing it dramatically on the podium as he asked city officials to “do something about the foul balls falling all over my back yard.” Some are even landing on the aluminum roof of an enclosed structure in the back of the house, he said. The white-washed house with well-tended gardens all around was built by his late in-laws, Charley and June Percival, with their own hands back in the 1960s.

The Wilsons said they started getting the fly balls soon after the city remodeled the park. The $3 million-plus improvements included improvements to the basketball courts and baseball field, the erection of a veterans memorial wall complete with an interactive water feature and rose garden, a bocce ball court, and meandering walkways around the park, among others.

At least one neighbor east of their property had installed a volleyball-type of netting that they tied between two pine trees along the fence in the back of their house, but the Wilsons are not sure if that has been effective as a foul-ball barrier.

“They have to do something before somebody gets hurt. It’s nice that they put up the (baseball field) but I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said the mild-mannered Irving Wilson who is a retired machinist. His wife, Lynne, retired eight years ago from the Lincoln Elementary School in Manteca where she was the school librarian.

Just a few days ago, in fact, Lynne Wilson was in the back yard when a flying ball from the baseball field landed on the lawn not far from where she was.

“The whole problem could have been alleviated had they put up a net in the beginning,” she said.

The Wilsons were talking about a net high enough to catch a foul ball so that it does not end up falling on the aluminum roof of their backyard structure or on their lawn. Evidently, the problem existed even before the improvements were made on the park. In the past when her mother was alive, Lynne Wilson said some players used to knock on the door asking if they can get their errant baseballs in her back yard.

Irving Wilson’s appearance before the council Monday night was not the first time he called the city’s attention to the problem. Last year, he asked former council member Robert Oliver if he could bring this to the city’s attention “and see what they can do” to this “big nuisance.”

As a result, someone from the city went and talked to the Wilsons.

“He said, ‘I’ll look into it,’ and that’s the last I heard of it,” Irving Wilson said.

He and his wife are hoping the city will act quickly this time – at least, quicker than the attention they received last year. Right after he addressed the council, Public Works Director Steve Salvatore talked to Irving Wilson about the problem. The next day, Salvatore himself and another city employee showed up at the Percivals’ home to look at the problem. The night before, in response to Irving Wilson’s address to the council, Mayor Kristy Sayles directed City Manager Cary Keaten to see “how we may mitigate this” and to bring a report about a possible solution to the next council meeting.

“We were very impressed,” Lynn Wilson said about the quick response from the city with the visit of the public works director and city employee the day after the council meeting.

It remains to be seen, however, how soon the city will remedy the problem of foul balls raining down on the Wilsons’ property.