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special report
Major League Baseball will sound very different this season: Must Win

PHILADELPHIA — Nowadays, you walk into Citizens Bank Park with a mask on and stand in front of a computer that takes your temperature.

You see your reflection in the computer screen. Your head is outlined in green.

A voice says, “temperature normal.”

You are cleared to enter the rest of the ballpark.

You don’t take any chances.

Major League Baseball, which will begin this week, will be ... different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s a stillness interrupted by the crack of the ball hitting a bat.

You walk through a deserted Hall of Fame Club on the way to the press box.

The lights are off.

Where once people gathered for pre- and in-game meals there are now only empty chairs and tables. The concession stands are closed. There are no souvenirs for sale.

A game without a crowd is both eerie and fascinating.

You notice the rumble of a truck as it drives past the stadium.

You hear the exhaust sound of a motorcycle as it accelerates on a nearby street.

From the press box behind home plate, you can hear the pop of the ball landing in a catcher’s glove as pitchers warm up in the bullpen below Ashburn Alley in right-center field.

A foul ball produces an echo of clangs as it ricochets off several empty seats and finally rolls to silence on a cement aisle.

The players laugh and talk.

Phillies left fielder Andrew McCutchen occasionally breaks into song. In one game, a Phillies batter struck out and reacted with an expletive that could be heard throughout the park.

Shouts of “I’ve got it!” can be heard from the center fielder on fly balls to the outfield.

The most captivating noise of all is the sound of players’ footsteps pounding the infield dirt as they run the bases.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Phillies pumped in some artificial noise to the stadium.

Manager Joe Girardi said crowd noise is needed for strategic reasons.

“Can a hitter hear a catcher move without the buzz of a crowd or the noise?” he said. “Can they hear us barking out directions that they normally wouldn’t hear?”

Many teams reportedly will use crowd sounds from the “MLB The Show” video game this season.

On Wednesday, Phillies outfielder Adam Haseley led off an intrasquad game with a double. As the ball rolled to the right-center field wall, artificial cheers blared. A steady stream of white noise played in the background.

Girardi says the noise is a positive. He did have a suggestion, however.

“I think I’d like to see them use different noise throughout the course of a game, so it’s not the same noise all the time,” he said.

The Phillies, and just about every other major league club, will do their best to provide a “normal” game atmosphere.

There will be cardboard cut-outs of fans in the stands. Hitters’ walk-up music will be played. Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker will announce the players.

But the artificial noise just doesn’t sound quite right.

It’s like hearing a cover band play a song by your favorite singer.

I’m thrilled baseball is back, but I’d prefer the silence.

Professional sports events had gotten too loud even before the virus struck. Music blares at Metallica-loud levels between innings and timeouts.

The quiet would give fans insight into a part of the game most of us never hear.

It would also remind us of exactly why the Phillies season is starting July 24 and not in March as originally scheduled.

The sounds of silence now will make the buzz of a living, breathing crowd that much sweeter to hear when the fans return.

The new Garden State Parkway bridge bike path runs from Somers Point to Upper Township, along the outer side of the southbound lanes.{standaloneHead}Parkway Path{/standaloneHead}

New parkway bridge bike path opened quietly, but safety still concern in Somers Point

SOMERS POINT — The bike and pedestrian path along the new Garden State Parkway bridge connecting Atlantic and Cape May counties opened July 8 with no fanfare from the state, and with some safety issues unresolved.

“We’re not planning any formal announcement,” New Jersey Turnpike Authority spokesman Thomas Feeney said in an email. The authority operates the parkway and built the $79.3 million bridge and path.Feeney also said there is no definite date for building a planned bike/pedestrian bridge from Route 9 to the new bridge.

Without that dedicated bridge to let walkers and bikers travel safely above vehicles entering and exiting the parkway, Somers Point officials still have significant concerns about safety, Mayor Jack Glasser said.

Glasser recommends driving to the start of the path in Somers Point, where there is a parking area, rather than biking to it from neighborhoods or other bike paths in the city, at least until safety improvements are made.

The bridge bike path runs from Somers Point to Upper Township, along the outer side of the southbound lanes on the new bridge.

Access to it is safely away from vehicle traffic on the Upper Township side, but not on the Somers Point side.

In Somers Point, access is along Route 9 just past the ramp cars use to enter the parkway south near the toll booth for the bridge, and walkers and bikers are directed to cross Route 9 at a pedestrian crossing light, near the bridge over the parkway.

However, there are no barriers to keep bikers from trying to cross traffic leaving the parkway at Exit 29, for which there is no crossing light.

“When they came to us years ago with the proposals,” Glasser said, “my whole thing was ... (the road from the parkway) to Somers Point-Mays Landing Road and beyond is not conducive to pedestrians and bicycles.”

The solution involved the city finding a way to build bike paths along roads to connect the new bridge to existing paths to Ocean City and Pleasantville, and the state building a dedicated bike and pedestrian access bridge on the short length of Route 9 from Mays Landing Road to the bike path.

Planning failure wastes path on parkway bridge for years

More than a decade ago, the state shut down and later demolished the Beesley’s Point Bridge used by vehicles and bicyclists to travel between Atlantic and Cape May counties. That wasn’t a big deal for drivers since they had the option of using the adjacent Garden State Parkway bridge. But it was the only inter-county route east of Mays Landing for cyclists trying to avoid chaotic and dangerous traffic on the barrier islands in summer.

The city did its part, getting grants to fund a bike path along Somers Point-Mays Landing Road from the parkway to the existing bike paths at Route 52 and behind the Somers Mansion.

Grant writer James Rutala, of Linwood, said the plans are done and the project will go to bid soon.

The state has not done its part, according to Somers Point officials.

“The plans to provide a safe connection to the new parkway bridge were developed in 2016,” Councilman Sean McGuigan said in a statement, “but there has been no progress on engineering or construction (of the access bridge).”

Somers Point wants some of the funds from the Turnpike Authority’s new toll increases to be used to build that bridge, McGuigan said.

The city also won grants for another pedestrian and bike path along Route 9 between MacArthur Boulevard and Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, where the road S-curves through Greate Bay Golf Club.

“That’s going to be happening,” Glasser said, and is due to start soon. That also will provide a safe route to school for children who live in Somers Point Village and in other housing off Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, the mayor said.

“We haven’t heard anything more — haven’t heard anything from the state,” Glasser said, except for new plans to create a full interchange at Exit 29 to reroute all parkway traffic to Ocean City through Mays Landing Road.

Exit 30, which connects with residential Laurel Drive in Somers Point and then flows into the four-lane MacArthur Boulevard, would be closed, according to the Turnpike Authority’s plans.

Somers Point council has passed a resolution opposing that plan, saying Somers Point-Mays Landing road is already busy, too narrow and is a bike route.

Feeney said the state has no definite date for starting either the bike and pedestrian bridge or the closing of Interchange 30 and creation of the new Interchange 29.

Meanwhile, walkers and bikers are enjoying the new bike path over the Great Egg Harbor Bay.

“This is my first time here,” said Laurie Adams, 61, an exercise enthusiast from Beesleys Point in Upper Township, as she prepared to ride the new path to Somers Point and back. “I love the Ninth Street bridge (Route 52 causeway bike path), and when I found out this was going to be happening in my own backyard, I was excited.”

Walker Don Polo, 67, also of Upper Township, said he will walk the bridge regularly. He was planning to do two crossings and back Friday. At 1.5 miles each way, that would be a total of 6 miles.

While the path is a positive development, the state has turned a deaf ear to Somers Point’s concerns, Glasser said.

“No matter what we do, the state can do what they want, and we’re going to be stuck with it,” he said.

GALLERY: Garden State Parkway Bridge construction

Wildwood arrest looms large at Cape meeting on police use of force

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Cape May County’s Black residents often feel unfairly targeted by police, residents told county Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland at a recent meeting called to discuss police use of force.

Similar events are being held throughout the state as part of state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s 21 County/21st Century Community Policing Project. Most have been held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this one, which was held Wednesday at the Martin Luther King Community Center in the Whitesboro section of the township, drew 50 people.

Grewal launched the initiative in 2018, long before the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody sparked nationwide protests and a renewed focus on police and race.

And Wednesday’s event was planned before video surfaced of a July 12 arrest in Wildwood in which a white officer can be seen punching a prone Black man with both fists. Sutherland’s office is investigating.

Some who attended the event wanted to talk about the Wildwood video, in which the man was reportedly hospitalized, but Sutherland said he could not comment on an active investigation.

The audience turned its questions toward township police Chief Christopher Leusner.

Some suggested he watch the video with his officers and discuss what happened. Leusner said he has not specifically discussed the July 12 incident, which happened in a neighboring jurisdiction, but said officers undergo continual training and evaluation. He cited efforts in Middle Township to address implicit bias among police officers and other programs, and said he reviews data on vehicle stops and investigations and compares them to the township’s demographics to watch for signs of discrimination in policing.

Leusner said officers are told to ask themselves, “Before I make this arrest, before I issue this ticket, would I be making these same decisions if the person was of a different gender or a different race? Make sure your decisions are based on behaviors, not on what people look like or their gender or their sexual orientation. That’s the goal. That’s what I want to see from my police officers, and that’s what I hope you see from every police officer in this country.”

Some in the audience wanted to address another specific incident in which a young man was charged with what they described as resisting arrest in the third degree. Several members of his family said the charges seemed excessive and worried that he remained in jail during a pandemic.

“I’m just not allowed to talk about a pending matter,” Sutherland said. “I can’t comment on a specific case.”

But the repeated message to law enforcement officials from community members at the event was that Black residents feel targeted by police officers.

“We have a serious problem with racial profiling, stopping our Black men,” said a woman at the meeting.

Toward the end of the meeting, Quanette Vasser-McNeal, vice president of the Cape May County chapter of the NAACP, asked those attending if they had ever been pulled over and believed it was related to the color of their skin. Most of the African Americans in the audience raised their hands. She saw the same response when she asked whether anyone felt unfairly treated by police.

Sutherland said if he does his job well enough, in the future, no one would raise their hands. He spoke about a program in the Cape May County Police Academy, which trains officers from around the state, in which he has ministers and other community leaders tell the recruits about their worst encounter with police.

Sutherland said there have historically been problems with law enforcement. He told the primarily Black audience that white privilege exists and that he has benefited from it.

“I was born into a system where I have privilege over people of color,” Sutherland said. “And I can’t do my job unless I recognize that I have implicit bias. I think white America, as a whole, has to be able to say that and mean it.”

According to Sutherland, this may be the first time a statewide policy on the use of force has been brought to the public for input before being adopted.

Changes under consideration include establishing a specific duty for officers to intervene if another officer uses excessive force and reconsidering tactics for subduing suspects, including chokeholds, neck restraints and strikes to the head. Other topics to be discussed include rules for high-speed pursuits, de-escalation tactics, when it is permissible to fire at a moving vehicle and the use of nonlethal force such as rubber bullets and bean bags shots.

But the audience was impatient with the bullet points projected on a screen.

“We know that you’re going to take pictures and write everything that you’re supposed to do,” a woman in the back said. “You want to say, ‘We did this, we created this board’ and blah, blah, blah, while the Black man in Wildwood is still getting pulled over and gets the (expletive) beat out of him.”

The meeting lasted about two hours, punctuated at times by loud exchanges and a few raised voices.

Not everyone left convinced anything would change. Whitesboro resident Jason Farrow, who spoke several times at the event, said after the meeting that the police were more interested in protecting fellow officers than in addressing injustice.

“Delay, derail and deflect. That’s all I saw tonight,” he said.