"Some Residents Concerned About Underage Drinking at Sports Park"


By Sarah Ostman
Lathrop/Manteca Sun Post
June 1, 2007

MANTECA — As the stands at Big League Dreams fill up with cheering softball fans this spring, a good lot of them are quenching their thirst with cold pitchers of beer.

There’s a problem, though: Some appear to be hitting the bottle a tad before their 21st birthdays.

Some patrons of Manteca’s newest park have complained that underage people are drinking alcohol in the stands during evening games, which begin at 6 p.m. weekdays.

“There’s no doubt it (underage drinking) goes on,” said softball fan Fred Millner, who frequents the park Thursdays to watch the Precision Auto team play.

Throngs of young people drink alcohol at the games, Millner said. Still, he acknowledged that it’s difficult to tell which are 21 and which are underage.

But general manager Ed Farms said he has never received any complaints about underage drinking.

Big League Dreams takes the issue seriously, he said. On any given night, at least four park employees patrol the bleachers and bar areas to sniff out potential lawbreakers.

Bartenders are also rigorously trained in state-approved beverage control, he said.

“We actually card just about everybody who comes up there,” Farmer said. “We watch that very diligently.”

No IDs were checked at the bar during 10 minutes observed by the Sun Post at about 8 p.m. May 24, although more than 10 people were served — several of whom looked to be in their early 20s or younger.

The same visit to the park found dozens of young people who appeared younger than 21 years of age drinking in the stands. At least three young people, beers in hand, told the Sun Post outright that they were underage.

A 20-year-old Tracy woman named Whitney said someone else had purchased a pitcher of Budweiser for her.

“This place is pretty chill,” she said.

According to Big League Dreams’ contracts, Manteca pockets as much as 20 percent of concessions sales.

The Manteca Police Department does not regularly patrol Big League Dreams, Chief Charlie Halford said, but instead relies mainly on security provided by the park.

The police do sometimes engage in local sting operations, in which they send an underage person into a liquor store or bar to try to buy alcohol, Halford said. He could not recall whether any such measures had been undertaken at Big League Dreams.

Underage people found drinking at the park could face charges of minor possession, while older people who buy alcohol for them could be charged with providing alcohol to minors.

Both charges are misdemeanors that come with a $500 fine and potential jail time, Halford said, although most violators just get fined.

If the park were found to be flouting the law on an ongoing basis, it could face fines or have its liquor license revoked by the Alcoholic Beverage Control department, he said.

Preventative measures, such as providing wristbands for legal drinkers or putting a one-drink limit on trips to the bar, could help if a problem is found, Halford said.

Whatever the solution, some hope the park will nip the alleged underage drinking in the bud.

“They need to monitor that,” Millner said. “It’d be too bad if a nice park like that got in hot water.”