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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Old Ballpark

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In the eternal green pastures of my youth there is an old ballpark. Where all games were competitive, every day was Sunday, and there were no rainouts.

 My dad had just finished cutting the grass when I noticed he was painting “Cubs Park” on the front of the corn crib. I ask dad what he was doing, and he replied that he was building a ballpark. I was only ten, but knew we lived out in the boondocks. Long before “The Field of Dreams” my dad believed that if you built a diamond, people would show up to play.

It was the park where at ten years old I was jerked out of the lineup for booting three balls in an inning. With my tear-stained face humiliated by having been jerked out of the lineup, I spent the afternoon glaring at the second baseman.

There was a backstop made of saplings and chicken wire about eight feet wide. It protected the ball from rolling into the dry creek bed that ran parallel to the field. The huge sycamore tree marked the leftfield foul pole. In the leftfield power alley a second dry creek bed marked the home run boundary. On the fly into the creek there was a home run (watch out for the snakes when retrieving the ball). Our ground rules were a little odd when it came to the centerfield to rightfield foul line. The boundary was marked by buried ceramic blocks. Outfielders were allowed to run beyond the boundary but anything that landed or dropped was considered home runs.  Dad made bases out of feed sacks filled with dirt: The field was ready for the games to begin.

It wasn’t long before the field was noticed, and we started playing both slow and fast pitch softball on Sundays. Family, friends, and strangers now stopped to play the game.

When I pass the field today, I often think of those times. I can hear the cheering, cussing, and the sound of the crack of the bat. Nature has reclaimed her field: It is now overgrown with weeds, saplings; the bases are occupied with field mice, rabbits, and snakes. The backstop is gone, no signs of any games ever being played. Now my dad is gone as are most of the older men who played those games.

The summer before my father’s passing we stood where the backstop once had its place, and looked over the field. Neither of us said a word. We just looked at each other and smiled.