On a dead end road off of East Church Street sits a baseball field—or maybe what is left of it. You don’t see it from East Church, and you may not even think anything of it. What probably draws you in is what looks like an entrance to a building that is no longer there; the brick and concrete doorway looks somewhat out of place. It is as if you can step up on the platform and step through the structure with the green vines growing up one side, and maybe you would step into another world. Or maybe another time.
As you turn from off one street and onto another (East Church onto North Means Street) and drive toward the odd doorway, you not only notice the doorway, but you notice the aluminum bleachers and four tall pine trees that stand in front of those bleachers. A little further down the road you see the top of a fence that would be considered a backstop. It is tall enough to keep balls from flying backward toward anyone in those stands behind that fence.
Drive a little further and park your car, truck, motorcycle or super trike. Get out and walk toward the field. It is a marvel as old as the day is long. There is a set of bleachers along the first and third base sides. These bleachers serve as the team’s dugouts. Yes, that’s right, there are no dugouts for the teams to sit in when they are not in the field.
A closer look shows the outfield grass is creeping in on the infield, but that isn’t the only thing that catches your eye. On the infield, right into the first twenty or so feet of the outfield, are deep grooves in the form of circles. Someone has driven onto the field with a truck and has done donuts. It is also clear that this happened a while back—the grooves are hard, even though it has rained within the last three days.
The outfield grass holds many sparkling spiderwebs, the dew of the early morning like glassy diamonds shimmer, even on this gray, overcast day. Try to ignore the glassy spiderwebs and keep walking toward this wooden post, old style cyclone outfield wall, which is barely three feet tall and looks more like it belongs around a farm than on a baseball field. Just before that fence is a blacktop path that could be considered the warning track. More than likely it is a walking trail, and if you look to your right and left, you will see this is exactly what it is. The path leads outside the field and behind an old house in one direction and dead-ending at the road in the other.
Just beyond the outfield fence is a tree line that dips into a valley. Many of those trees have been downed over the years, either felled by age or weather, or maybe even axe and chainsaw. There are a couple of structures back there, houses maybe, but it is kind of hard to tell through all the trees.
If you walk from centerfield to home plate, you will find it is 291 feet, and for little kids, it would take a hard swing, and a long fly ball to hit a home run.
Before you leave the dilapidated field, touch one of the bags, first, second or third. Go ahead. It won’t bite you. Though the exterior is slightly hard, the base is soft. You can push on it with a couple of fingers and the base gives. Yeah, old school bases are the best.
As you go to leave, don’t just look at the doorway to a building that is no longer there. Walk up to it, pull yourself up on it. Touch the cold clay brick and the smooth concrete arch. Now, step through it. Go ahead. Just do it.
What do you see on the other side? What do you hear?
The sky is no longer gray, but the sun is out and shining down. The cool of the air when you arrived is now warm and that coat you are wearing feels like too much. The road to the left is no longer paved, but red clay, just like the field that is surrounded by the short fences. Take a look now. There are folks in those bleachers. Maybe they are from the fifties or the sixties or seventies. Maybe they are from last year—does it matter what time period the ghosts of games passed are from?
The kids on the field aren’t wearing fancy uniforms. Most of them are in jeans and t-shirts and raggedy shoes (not cleats, folks). They wear their favorite teams’ hats and those, like the rest of their clothes, are fairly dirty, some because of superstitions, some because they don’t want those hats washed—it gives them character, you know?
They toss the ball around after every out. They tap their cleats with the bats on every plate appearance. The catchers talk trash behind the plate. It doesn’t bother most of the kids, but every once in a while, one of them takes offense. The only kids sitting on the bleachers down either of the base lines are the ones who are not playing. The others walk around and talk or toss the ball back and forth to keep their shoulders from getting stiff.
There is a pitch and a swing. The crack of a bat and the ball is airborne. It comes down in the right fielder’s glove with a loud smack. He tosses the ball to the shortstop. In turn, he tosses it to the first baseman and then it goes to the pitcher. The game has just started and the fans sitting on the home side bleachers cheer the out and yell their ‘at a boys’, while those on the visitor’s side clap at the effort of the batter and yell their ‘get ‘em next times’.
It’s mesmerizing, this game I so love (though maybe you don’t), and no, this history is not in black and white, but full on technicolor.
Don’t go back through the doorway just yet. Don’t go to your super trike or moped or your Porsche. Instead, hop down from the landing of the doorway and stroll to one of the bleachers. Grab a seat and sit. Enjoy the game. As I said, it’s just getting started and the old field you drove up on that no one plays on anymore is awake and alive and about to put on a show for you.
Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.