FOUNTAIN: Batter up! Baseball’s back in Ford Heights
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Here, in Ford Heights, a field of dreams lives. That was as clear as a perfect baseball afternoon on Friday. It shone like the green grass carpet and the soaring silver backstop that has now replaced the tattered rusty one that not long ago was among the old remnants of a forlorn field overgrown with weeds.
The rebirth of youth baseball in this south suburban village echoed with each crack of the bat — restoring a sound that had long faded in a place where baseball died.
The crowd — women, children, graying old men, some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Ford HTS. Proud” — were symbols perhaps of the resurrection of dreams, of the return of hope and possibilities.
And as little boys trotted around the bases, basking in the glory, it was clear that baseball in Ford Heights has made a comeback. That is not a negligible thing in a place where weeds are known to rise like poverty, and where dreams are known to die before they have even had a chance to take root.
Indeed scores turned out beneath mostly sunny skies for the dedication of Excell Walker Field that was once just a fragile dream held by Coach George “Kirby” Green, 55, a longtime resident. Three years ago, hoping to resurrect youth baseball here, Green was in search of a field. Kelvin Oliver, then a youth baseball coach in nearby Olympia Fields, had a field but not enough players.
It was a perfect match — one I chronicled in the summer of 2014 in a series titled, “The Sweet Season.”
When Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart read about the team’s dilemma, he sought to help them build a field. Kirby’s vision with the help of his brother Karlton Green and the sheriff’s department ultimately led to a wider community partnership.
Funders included: The Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a joint program between MLB and the MLB Players Association, ($153,000); Cubs Charities Diamond Project ($47,000); former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel ($11,000); the James McHugh Construction Co., which served as pro-bono construction manager and also donated $5,000 to the village’s park district.
There were balloons and celebration; an appearance by Dart and also Hammel — who now plays for the Kansas City Royals; and even an appearance by Clark the endearing Cubs mascot.
And there were the boys who play under the Ford Heights banner, either as the Police or as Hammel’s Heroes. They donned black and gold uniforms, fresh off two baseball championship titles during summer league play in which three of their five teams made the playoffs.
Just beyond the field, lawn chairs dotted the surrounding grass. A red truck advertising “Simpson’s Barbecue and Shaved Ice” hummed nearby as fans sauntered over for free hotdogs. There was the sound of excitement and laughter. Smiles enough to dispel decades without much hope.
“How you feeling, man?” one of the coaches asked a man as the two embraced and shook hands just outside the field.
“I’m feeling good,” the man said, smiling widely. “I couldn’t miss this here.”
Neither could I.
With the field christened, the wind seemed to carry a new breath of hope as tangible as the sandalwood–colored dirt that runs beyond the pitcher’s mound to fresh white bases on a field adorned with a blue scoreboard in right field.
Soon the boys were in the outfield warming up, throwing and catching amid the backdrop of green trees, their leaves fluttering in the wind. It was a perfect day for baseball on a field of dreams come true, in a place called Ford Heights.
To view The Sweet Season’s website by Fountain, visit: http://thasweetseason.blogspot.com/