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I was Accused of Embezzlement... Summer League: The Final Chapter

Read Part 3 Here

It was becoming more and more obvious that the powers-that-be at Norton Youth Baseball were making a concerted effort to derail the Summer League and take control of Everett Leonard Field, and I wasn't about to get caught looking…

In 2004, I reverted back to our original t-shirt, which to me will always be a classic baseball logo. The pic is of the last remaining one I have…

Parents began calling after our season had already started to say they were just told their kids made the NYB All-Stars and would no longer be playing Summer League, forcing me to scramble and rearrange the teams and redo the schedule. It was a major disruption and I was upset but not surprised that NYB was trying to put an end to something as good for the kids as Summer League.

NYB did call off their threat to fire umpires who refused to leave a Summer League game already in progress to umpire one of their games last minute. Our games started a half-hour earlier than theirs did, but there were no problems after I had a talk with their longtime head umpire…

By mid-season, a lot of the kids who paid to play Summer League and were chosen as A, B, C, and D All-Stars by NYB, started coming back to play Summer League, and then I had to scramble again to get them back on teams. In the Junior League, I told the coaches to put four kids in the outfield and to give every kid a spot in the batting order. I still believed it was possible to "Let the kids play" and I was doing everything I could to return the league to some semblance of order…

All of our 2004 Sponsors appeared on the back of the tees & helped us raise close to $4,000. Each sponsor received a tee-shirt in their size & a well-deserved handshake from the Director of Summer Baseball…

Meanwhile, there was a lot of infighting on the Recreation Commission and then an anonymous letter to the editor was published in The Sun Chronicle saying that the town pool had loose tiles that caused a child to bleed, and that by law, a public pool in that condition had to be drained, repaired, and inspected by the Board of Health before it could be filled and reopened. The future of the summer camp and the recreation department was in limbo. The then-Commission Chairman got a quote to do the extensive repairs but there wasn't enough money available…

I immediately went to TPC Boston in Norton and spoke to a bigwig named Tom Landry (not the football coach) and told him about our pool/camp dilemma. He was very understanding and said he could donate four tickets for a round of golf including a cart and… two tickets to a tournament Tiger Woods was playing in. It was a godsend for us because without the pool there's no summer camp and the Recreation Director would've lost her job because a good portion of her salary was funded by camp enrollment.

At the next meeting, members of the Rec Commission haggled over the cost of the raffle tickets for the TPC golf events. I wanted to sell them for $2 each, three for $5, figuring we'd sell a lot of tickets that way, but other members of the commission wanted to sell them for $20 each. I was able to walk them back to $10, but even at $10 we barely sold enough raffle tickets to repair the pool.

"Sweet Swinging" Phil Rizzo could hit a baseball and play an extraordinary first base… 

Even after the repairs began I continued digging deeper into the motivation behind the anonymous letter to the editor. The Recreation Director insisted it was the work of the Chairman. There was some bad blood between them and he accused her of being "lazy" and had been trying to get her fired for a while, long enough that she wanted him gone and she wasn't afraid to ask me to do it. But I wouldn't become part of a personal vendetta or act without finding evidence of wrongdoing.

The pool was repaired, inspected, filled, and ready for the start of summer camp. I suspected the extensive repairs weren't necessary but once they started it was too late to turn back. I found out later that there was never any documentation of anyone being cut by a loose tile and bleeding into the pool. In actuality, there were only a couple of handfuls of loose tiles and all of it could've been done for less than half the cost of what we ended up paying and without all the negative publicity…

Paul Russell & his crew from Pondville Correction Center did an outstanding job painting the Pavillion and the Pool House

I wasn't done with the pool renovation. I contacted Paul Russell about painting the Pavilion and the Pool House using his crew from the Pondville Correction Center. Same deal as before, coffee and donuts in the morning, pizza for lunch, and a letter to the Warden so the members of the paint crew could get an additional weekend furlough. I set them up with ladders, scrapers, brushes, rollers, and paint, and they did another outstanding job.

Later, I called the owner of the company who the Chairman said condemned the pool and he denied ever condemning it, saying he was only asked to price the repairs as described to him by the Chairman… That was all the information that was needed and although he was given an opportunity to defend himself at a special meeting that was posted 48 hours prior to it, and even after one of the new Commissioners volunteered to go to his house to tell him (she became the next Chair), the Chairman chose not to show up and in a unanimous vote, he was removed from the Commission. One other Commissioner who sympathized with him and did not attend the special meeting, angrily resigned at the next meeting in protest. There were some new members added to the Commission and the pressure put on the Director by the former Chair finally came to an end. Although the Recreation Director wasn't allowed to attend Commission meetings as we were her boss and could very well be discussing her performance, after the result was known she was all smiles and thanked everyone who was at the special meeting for removing her nemesis

Brandon Hallissey taking a healthy cut at the Lions Field. "See the ball, hit the ball". He was a versatile player who could catch, pitch, and play first base. He and his father were both hilarious and fun to be around!

Despite all the drama, the camp was full, the Summer League games were being played on schedule, and the kids were having a great time playing summer baseball. The kids and their parents had no idea what was going on behind the scenes… We continued to improve the two fields, building two dugouts at Everett Leonard, and at the Lions Field, we installed foul poles, new infield mix, and painted the top rail of the fencing in the outfield high-visibility yellow. Everything was being done by a strong group of volunteers including myself.

Then, one hot Sunday morning Chuck and I headed down to the Everett Leonard Field to do some work and we were both surprised that the front gate was wide open when we got there… And, that someone had driven a vehicle onto the new field and did donuts around the infield. I was beside myself and Chuck and I immediately got out the shovels and rakes and worked hard to fill in the ruts and bring the field back to normal.

When we were done I called the Director and told her what happened and reminded her that I didn't have any extra money to buy more infield mix for field repairs and that she had to make sure she locked the gate every night, including Saturday after an event (park rental), because securing the park every night was part of her job description.

Mike Abbott was another versatile player who could catch and play shortstop with the best of 'em…

The next few nights I drove by and made sure she was locking the gate, but the following week she left the gate unlocked again and the garbage barrels were overflowing and the awful smell at the field had Summer League parents complaining. I started emptying the garbage barrels and putting in new bags myself, but that wasn't my responsibility, it was the Recreation Director's and it was supposed to be done by camp staff during the day…

After ignoring several emails I sent her concerning this matter, I finally got her attention when I sent a group email to her, the Town Manager, and all the Selectman. She got upset because I called her out in front of her bosses, something the former Chairman had done on a regular basis, but I wasn't trying to have her fired, I was just trying to protect Everett Leonard Park from vandals. 

The Director and I once had a great working relationship but after that, it spiraled downhill quickly. This was the same woman who just a year earlier presented me with a Letter of Commendation for my "volunteerism and hard work developing the league" stating, "He does everything from mowing the fields to managing the teams" and recognizing me for being the "founder and backbone of the Norton Summer League and an advocate and catalyst for improvement at Everett Leonard Park". She concluded with, "The many fine enhancements you have made to the baseball field, using much of your time and energy, have made our entire park inviting and full of life". After the group email, she wouldn't pick up any of her three phones when I called and the lack of communication became very frustrating. I went to her office and they said she was at Everett Leonard Park. I went to the Park and they said she was at her office… 

There was a problem getting the tee shirts and caps made by our regular sporting goods store and I told Jose Bejarano, owner of Tux Towne, about our dilemma and he stepped up to the plate big time and got it done for us in time for the start of the season. I invited him and his family to the Season-Ending Celebration and when I asked him to throw out the first ball he opted to have his two young boys do it, which was even better.

Because of the close proximity of the two fields we were able to hold the Season-Ending Celebration at both. The Senior League was at the Lions Field and the Junior League at Everett Leonard. It was a great day. There was one nine-inning game at each field in the morning, and pool, live music, barbeque, a pitching contest, and a home run derby at Everett Leonard in the afternoon.

Flyer from the 2004 Season-Ending Celebration

Since I had so many raffle tickets left over from the TPC Boston raffle, I put together a raffle for two brand new, top-of-the-line baseball gloves I won on eBay. A Wilson A2000 12" Professional Model valued at $299 and a Louisville TPX 11.25" Pro Series infielder's glove valued at $130. I sold raffle tickets for $2 each, three for $5, and we sold a ton of 'em! The kids who won the gloves were ecstatic.

A few weeks after the season ended I received a certified letter from the Recreation Commission demanding that I submit a complete and detailed summary of all my expenses, including receipts… I never wanted to handle the money and the Director forced me to open a bank account because she didn't want to do it. The threatening letter made it obvious she wanted me out, that I had become her new nemesis, and she was hoping I hadn't kept receipts and that my records would be incomplete. The letter was signed by the director, the new overzealous, highly ambitious, and dangerously rabid chairwoman, and all the commissioners and it strongly suggested that I had embezzled funds and that they had every intention of prosecuting me if I couldn't produce records to prove otherwise. I couldn't believe it! No good deed goes unpunished…

I had all the canceled checks and bank statements and I had tossed all the receipts into a metal storage cabinet I had bolted down between the two seats in my work van. It took some doing, but I sorted through it all and found every last one of them. In the end, my wife and I spent hours putting together a detailed spreadsheet and I was required to present it at a special meeting at Town Hall. The final numbers revealed that I spent more than I had taken in, which proved I hadn't embezzled any funds and that I actually paid a lot of Summer League expenses out of my own pocket…

Chuck Moitoza had his heart in the right place & the kids loved him. He was an absolute rockstar!

A week after I cleared my name and escaped prosecution, I sent a letter of resignation to the Board of Selectman stepping down as both a Recreation Commissioner and Director of Summer Baseball. I was very happy Chuck read my letter out loud during the next televised Selectman's meeting. He spoke of how hard I had worked to establish the Summer League, fix the pool, that everything I did was for the kids, and that my heart was always in the right place…

The following year the Commission advertised my vacated position, Director of Summer Baseball, for $12 an hour, but nobody wanted it. I spent on average 500 hours a year, building, ordering equipment, maintaining fields, scheduling games and umpires, holding drafts, coaching, and I wasn't paid a cent…

After I was gone, Norton Youth Baseball took control of Everett Leonard Field like they always wanted to do and I was left to wonder how it all turned so bad so quickly. I put my house up for sale shortly after resigning, but after a couple of angry months, I decided to stay in town and not give them the satisfaction of forcing me and my family out. I've now lived in Norton for 34 years…

Charlie Neibergall. Shutterstock Images.

When Chuck and I were working up at Everett Leonard we joked that after we passed on our ghosts would come out of the woods to play baseball on the field like the ballplayers in the movie "Field of Dreams", but when I drove by the street Everett Leonard Park was on, although I was tempted to turn, I couldn't bring myself to do it. When I finally made the turn and drove by the Park 10 years later, I had rationalized that all my efforts hadn't been in vain, and in the three years (2002-2004) I directed summer baseball for the Town of Norton, I helped create some great memories for a lot of the kids and the field would continue to provide new kids with a place to play baseball for a very long time.

A great group of kids who had a lot of fun playing Summer League in its final season…

Seventeen years later while I painstakingly finish writing this story, I still have mixed feelings about everything that took place and everyone who was involved, but I'll always consider the Norton Summer League to be one of my greatest accomplishments…

And it seemed so simple in the beginning, "Let the kids play…"