If you played baseball long enough, you eventually left the friendly confines of Bo Nelson Field and moved your game up to what was just called “The Big Field”.
The Big Field. Four hundred and twenty-five feet to center field if it was an inch. A little over three hundred to right and about 275 to left, but the Parks and Recreation group added a 30′ Net Monster to left, so you had to at least hit it high to get a home run to left. I played on this field from 13-14 year old through high school.
A Little Tour
Only a few people were known to hit homers to center or right fields. Carl Hope’s home run was, arguably, the longest ever hit at The Big Field. Depending on the version of the story, his ball traveled all the way to the flag pole in front of the recreation center (1).
Lee McLendon told me that the ball may have hit the roof of the rec center and rolled back down to the flag pole. I don’t doubt any of the stories, because that’s just not what kids did in those days and I still have too much respect for the storytellers to second guess them now, but if the ball barely cleared the center field fence at The Big Field, that ball had been struck and the batter deserves to be the subject of local lore.
Brian Fields, using a wooden bat, hit a ball that traveled over the centerfield fence and hit the house across the street from the recreation center (2). This was in the 1980s and the exact location of where the ball landed was an instant debate. Again, if it landed on Prosch Alley, it was a poke.
The longest home run that I ever witnessed, and the only one that I’ve ever heard of being hit to right field, was by a player named Choo-Choo from Banks High School. Such a sweet swing. Crushed it over the right field fence and to the middle of Bristol Street.
Location 4 on the photo is my favorite. That’s Mr. Ford’s spot. Mr. Ford was an older gentleman who came to every game, early, and sat on the first row of the bleachers directly behind home plate. I don’t know if Mr. Ford was a fan of any team, and I can’t honestly say that he was there to even watch the baseball game. Mr. Ford’s pastime was badgering umpires, and he was a pro.
High school games began around 4:30, if I recall, but Mr. Ford would arrive at 4:00. Walking with a cane for occasional support, Mr. Ford would take his spot behind home plate and, quietly, watch the teams warm-up. Players would greet him, and he would acknowledge their hellos with a slight nod.
About 10 minutes before game time, the umpires would make their ways from their cars to the field, an approach Mr. Ford had studied for years. As the umpires reached the gate at the first base dugout, Mr. Ford sat up straighter – like a hunting dog on point. As the umpires walked through the gate, in a voice that required more oxygen than you would expect someone of his age to be able to gather, Mr. Ford would yell “LOOOKIE HERE, LOOOKIE HERE!!! HERE COMES THE BLIND MAN!!!” Some parks played the National Anthem, but games at The Big Field began with Mr. Ford’s welcome. From that moment until he walked off the field at the end of the game, Blind Man heard about every call he made. Balls. Strikes. Heaven help Blind Man if there was a play at the plate. The only call Blind Man every got right was a foul ball call and, even then, Mr. Ford would suggest he confirm the call with the field umpire before adding, “but he’s just as blind as you and didn’t see it either.”
When I say Mr. Ford commented on every pitch, I mean EVERY. PITCH. And I’m using “comment” in a liberal sense because it was so much worse.
It was entertainment for Mr. Ford, being the in-game entertainer. He would, after what he felt was a particularly good zinger, rap his cane on the bleachers and look at those around him in the bleachers, seeking approvals he really didn’t care if he received or not.
One time, in high school, I walked to the plate and was about to step in the batter’s box when the home plate umpire, in his first assignment at The Big Field, asked, “Hey 7, is that man always like this?”
“Mr. Ford? Yes sir, but he must think you’re doing a good job. He’s usually much more vocal.”
I’d pay green money for video of Mr. Ford fussing at an umpire.
That’s all that I have time for. I hope you have great day.
Special thanks to Jim Hartsell for his contributions to this post.