John Fountain: Field of dreams comes to hard-luck Ford Heights

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George “Kirby” Green, 54, coach of the Ford Heights Pirates, says of the planned new youth baseball field, “This is something that our town has been thirsting for.” (Photo: John W. Fountain)

“If you build it, he will come.” — “Field of Dreams”

An emerald field of dreams, complete with a new silver backstop and dugout, and a field of dreamers: A few good men and a team of little boys. And at last a home game.

A brand new baseball field of dreams is coming to a town where dreams too often are suffocated, and hope choked. Where poverty rains. And yet, where endless possibilities loom, like a giant rainbow, bending across the horizon.

Destination: Ford Heights — an impoverished, often bypassed hamlet of less than 3,000 in the far south suburbs.


In fact, a partnership between the Ford Heights Park District, Cook County Sheriff’s Office and Major League Baseball — which recently awarded a $153,000 grant to the project — will erect a new youth baseball field for the Ford Heights Pirates by 2017.

It is something that George “Kirby” Green, 54, could always imagine, despite the death of baseball in Ford Heights, which he resurrected two years ago in his hometown. A new field to replace the old one — long overrun by weeds and stained by rust — has been his dream. For the last two seasons, Green and his team have had to travel miles away and team up with the Matteson/Olympia Fields Cubs.

Kelvin Oliver, head coach of the MOF Cubs, had a field but not enough boys. Green had boys but no field. Their collaboration made for a sweet season — one I chronicled in a series the summer of 2014 and that culminated with a championship. Even then, it was clear that the mission was about more than baseball. That both coaches’ dream is to change lives. To help heal, restore, build.

“We’re growing young men,” Green, also a Ford Heights Park District commissioner, told me this week. “It’s not just baseball. This is our tool. This is just another tool to turn it around,” he said of the new field.

Since 2008, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police has been the sole law enforcement agency in Ford Heights after its own police department was disbanded. In 2014, when Sheriff Thomas J. Dart read about the team’s dilemma, he says he dispatched Larissa Davis from his office to explore ways they might assist.

“I honestly don’t think it’s anything like extraordinary to say that children ought to have an ability to access public fields and parks to play basketball, football, baseball, or whatever it is,” Dart told me.

Both Dart and Green credit Davis with taking the ball and running with it — with helping bring to fruition plans to build a new field expected to undergo construction later this year.

Dart, who grew up playing baseball and is an assistant coach on his son’s youth baseball team, extols baseball’s virtues and lessons. But the benefits of restoring baseball to Ford Heights, he says, extend well beyond the field, to policing.

“If we’re seen as part of the solution, engaged in the community, trying to help the community — an asset to the community — the dynamics change immediately.”

The grant for the field is from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint program between MLB and the MLB Players Association.

“In a larger sense too, it’s providing community development,” Cathy Bradley, executive director of the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, told me. “These projects are, often times, either a catalyst for a greater change in a community, or a part of the ongoing community revitalization.”

That’s how Coach Green sees it: Today a field of dreams. Tomorrow a hotel, a supermarket, a family restaurant, maybe even a McDonald’s in Ford Heights. …Build it and they will come.

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