Discarded needles, not strikes, outs, concern little league players, coaches, parents

Before a game or practice, officials with a Little League group have to make one last safety sweep. It’s not to make sure that the bases are in the right position or that the bats are within league standards, they have to look for discarded hypodermic needles.

Members of the Atrisco Valley Little League in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said an 11-year-old player was practicing sliding when a needle punctured her foot, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

She had to be tested at a local hospital and will have to repeat the testing in three months to make sure she didn’t pick up any diseases.

League president Hector Aguilar and other volunteers survey six baseball fields before practice and games picking up needles. They find between 20 and 30 on average. But they can be easily missed in the tall grass. They're also finding needle caps and cotton swabs workers said are used to mix drugs, according to the Journal.

"The needle problem affects all the fields. We even find them in the dugout, where the kids sit and under the bleachers, where parents and spectators sit," Aguilar told the newspaper.

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What they collect is put is in a large, empty sunflower seed bucket, which is picked up by the Bernalillo County Fire Department for disposal when the bucket reaches capacity.

Aguilar said that town homeless are taking refuge in the Little League park and has found them in the bleachers, under a canopy at the concession stand building or in the portable toilets after the locks have been broken.

One family said they found a homeless man in one of the dugouts.

"A man who was obviously homeless had made his home in the third-base dugout and showed no signs of leaving," Marlena Gurule, parent to two players, told the Journal.

The game her sons were scheduled to play had to be moved, not because of the man, but because of the used hypodermic needles that littered the field.

Another field at the complex isn’t being used this year because of the problem.

“There is one field at the west end, the very back of the park, that we can no longer use because it’s just saturated with needles. It is completely out of commission for us,” Aguilar said.

To help the league, a tamper-proof needle disposal box is expected to be installed at the park. Trained personnel are supposed to be removing needles and sheriff's deputies are being asked to patrol the area more frequently, the Journal reported.

But the crew tasked to safely remove the discarded needles is a small group and have to get to all county parks and other property under the county’s control so they’re only at the ballparks used by the Atrisco Valley Little League once every two weeks.

But it isn’t an issue just facing the Little League in Arizona -- it’s also happening across nation in New York.

Officials in Rochester Hispanic Youth Baseball League in Rochester may be forced to find another field because they're also finding used hypodermic needles littering Baden Park, WHAM reported.

Coaches’ first aid kits now contain Narcan and they’re being instructed how and when to use it.

League officials believe the number of players have been decreasing because it's not safe for kids to play at the park, according to WHAM.

Kids from the age of 4 to 15 have to watch where they walk to avoid discarded needles.

Coaches get to the fields an hour before games begin for the day just to clean up what they can, filling up containers with the dangerous drug waste, despite city crews cleaning the park four times a week, WHAM reported.

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