There is an emerald field of dreams in Ford Heights, lying beneath the wild grass and weeds. In the dugout — not far from where the rusted old backstop once stood — Ford Heights’ new boys of summer have gathered for their first home game ever. The stands are filled with fans. The scent of popcorn drifts on a summer breeze, like the sound of cheers. This is the dream for Ford Heights baseball.
In that dream, cars line the street near the field, like they used to, back in the good old days when George “Kirby” Green, 53, was a kid — back when fathers were around. Back when fathers played baseball with their children and there was a sense of community, and the whole neighborhood came out to watch the boys play. Back when the impoverished south suburban hamlet was more filled with hope than with blight and broken promises.
Upon this new field of dreams, an umpire shouts, “Play ball!”
The crack of the bat splits the silence of a sunny blue afternoon. And baseball finally has returned to its rightful place in Ford Heights: In the hands of little boys with the world more at their fingertips than the downward spiral of poverty and life in the streets that leads too many of them to prison or premature graves. This is the dream. But I see it as the fruit of Coach Green’s actions last spring when he gathered a group of local boys and took them by invitation from Kelvin Oliver to nearby Olympia Fields. Oliver, who coaches baseball in the middle class suburb, had baseball and a field but not enough boys. Kirby had boys but no field — and his boys had never played baseball.
I chronicled the Matteson-Olympia Fields Cubs’ story last summer in a series of columns and also on a website www.thasweetseason.blogspot.com
A season that began with the certainty of losses, it turned into an incredible winning season both on and off the field.
That’s the thing about dreams. They can come true. And when they do, they can open a whole new world of possibility.
Coach Kirby’s baseball dream caught the attention of the larger community, including the Cook County sheriff’s office. For several months, the collective effort has been to raise enough funds for baseball in Ford Heights and also to build a regulation Little League baseball field.
That effort includes a dinner fund-raiser this weekend at the South Holland Community Center, 501 E. 170th Street. Green says they need ultimately to raise $35,000.
If they secure the materials, the sheriff’s office has pledged to build the field, using community service workers and also inmates who receive construction job training through its RENEW program. “Children who live in Ford Heights deserve no less of a chance than children who live anywhere else,” reads a written statement from the sheriff’s office. “Organized sports provide children with important structure and help impart the critical lessons of life.”
Those lessons are priceless.
“Nothing that we’re doing is about winning and losing. That’s where people lose focus,” Green told me. “All this is about is giving kids opportunity to go to college . . . to create another avenue . . . to develop conflict resolution . . . how to deal with problems . . . to deal with constructive criticism.”
This season, 48 boys from Ford Heights, ages 5 to 12, will be exposed to those lessons through baseball as the new Ford Heights Pirates. For now, they’ll have to play on another town’s field of dreams. But in the dream, they have an emerald field of their very own and many more sweet seasons to come. For more information: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/one-night-of-support-for-a-sweet-season-tickets-16024084468