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SOUTHEAST CRIME

Theft of Aluminum Wrecks Ballfield Bleachers

The stolen aluminum bleachers were installed at Fort Greble Field, home field for Ballou High, as part of a renovation. The frame has since collapsed.
The stolen aluminum bleachers were installed at Fort Greble Field, home field for Ballou High, as part of a renovation. The frame has since collapsed. (By Clark Ray)

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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The price of aluminum, at a 20-year high, apparently has led to a new low in the annals of inner-city baseball in Washington.

Thieves, apparently seeking a quick payday, found an unusual target: the aluminum bleachers at Fort Greble Field in Southeast, home field of the Ballou Senior High School Knights.

The $14,000 aluminum bleachers were installed as part of a renovation of the field by the D.C. government and Major League Baseball. In May, fans crowded the seats as Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) threw out the first pitch at Ballou's home opener. But sometime in the past month, thieves carted away the seats, leaving only the metal frame.

"When I saw this, I was like, 'Oh my god!' " said Clark Ray, who oversaw the renovation for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

Ray said he discovered the theft during a recent lunch trip to the nearby Martin Luther King Deli. Ray photographed the stripped frame and informed police. "This field is my baby," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

The frame has since collapsed into a tangled heap, surrounded by discarded nuts and bolts and spent fireworks casings. Under a hot midday sun yesterday, Leckie Elementary School next door was shuttered for summer vacation, and no one was around. The rest of the baseball complex -- with its outfield fence, backstop, two dugouts and lush green grass -- looked fine.

Last summer, the scene was triumphant when Ballou players joined the mayor and former Washington Nationals outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The $500,000 project, funded in part by a $100,000 grant from MLB's Baseball Tomorrow Fund, was intended to promote D.C. high school baseball, which is saddled with low interest and poor facilities.

D.C. police, who are dealing with a recent surge in violent crime, said they have no leads in the bleachers case.

Bryan McGannon, a spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said rising scrap aluminum prices have led to an increase in thefts of light poles, highway guardrails and other items. For example, in April, thieves made off with $4,000 worth of aluminum bleachers from a park in Lorain, Ohio.

The amount of aluminum stolen at Fort Greble was about 750 pounds, said Anthoula Gianniotis, an architect with Alphatec, which installed the bleachers for the sports commission. Aluminum is selling on the commodities market at slightly more than $1 a pound, although McGannon said recyclers would offer well below market value if they took the scrap at all.

"Whoever did it should be ashamed," said Noel Cyrus, Ballou's athletic director. "It was there for the whole community. For a few people to take it upon themselves to make a few bucks -- if they're from our community -- they need to move out."


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