Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Off My Wall: Paving Paradise?

by Jeff Smith
April 16, 2008

Paving Paradise?

In my dream, I'm standing at second base of the Little League diamond at White's Park chatting it up with Kevin Costner, who's in town for a possible remake of his prize-winning movie, Field of Dreams.

Costner wants to re-make the 1989 film, this time making it a bit darker and more Warholian. He wants to change the concept of Field of Dreams from the cherished baseball field cut in the middle of an Iowa corn field to the dreams of corporate American chasing away the dreams of thousands of little kids who had played on a similarly cherished baseball field.

He may have found just the right place in Our Town.

He raises his left arm and slowly moves it from the right field foul line into centerfield and then towards the leftfield foul line that runs somewhat parallel to White Street. As he moves his arm, kids appear, kids who had played at White's over many decades all dressed in their baseball caps, t-shirts or sweatshirts, and sneakers of the day with tattered baseball gloves ready for action. The faces are those of Concord kids past and present - some spanning several generations - from their childhood days and I recognize almost all of them.

The Kallechey are there alongside the Hardimans, Callahans, Ceriellos, Flanders, Cimokowskis, Dinapolis, and the Stohrers. As Costner moves his arm towards centerfield, more kids appear. The Knees, Maihotts, Tarrs, Hardimans, Cronins, Kidders, and several families of Walkers all appear. Of course the Champagnes appear along with the Burkes, Mattices, Mullaneys, Moronos, Brochus, Craigues, Matthews, Amrols, Taylors, Bensons, Hoffmans, Mayos, and Watsons. The Degnans, McMahons, Mulligans, Tillotsons, Faretras, Harrisons, Messiers and Lessels joke with the Desmaraiss, Earnshaws, Summers, Barlows and LeBruns in centerfield while the Meads, Burneys, Lanzos, Lapierres and Maceys want to know what all the fuss is about as they tumble into left field. Coming through the various gates at White's and not wanting to be late are the Murphys, the Bonners, the Foys and the Eberharts all scurrying down the paths to the Little League field hoping to be part of the casting call for Costner's movie. And before long the word was out and old friends from the intra-park league days began appearing, kids from Rollins Park, and Fletcher-Murphy Playground, and West Street and Kimball Playground and Merrill and Rolfe Parks.

They all gather in support of their cherished ground.

They arrived professing their love for the place where they all learned how to bunt and hit and run, how to tag up on a fly ball and how to steal a base. They learned the proper way of putting on the catcher's equipment and how to hit a fastball, be it from Tuffy Olsen, Eddie Bourgeous or Danny Jameson. They learned how to turn a double play, how to take a pitch on a 3-0 count and how to line up the relay throws from the outfield. And they learned what it meant to be a teammate. It was here that friendships were born not only with the kids who called White’s Park "home," but also with the kids from the Auto Dealers representing East and West Concord and the Rotary kids who came down the hill from the Heights to play in the Concord American Little League well before the manicured beauty of Grappone Park was built.

It was on the Little League field at White's that we also played touch football and then flag football. It was there that we played other games of baseball called pitcher-catcher, rundown, 500 and home run derby. And when Gustaf (Joe) Vassaf arrived one summer from Turkey, the field saw its first soccer ball, a game now widely played by kids all over the city.

The Little League field is now under siege as the City has a plan to destroy the field and build a 92-car parking lot. The plan is in its final stages of approval. Hmmm. While the field doesn't serve as a formal Little League field any longer, I always thought it was perfect for youth and recreational softball, or for the younger kids who were just learning the skills of soccer, or even the young kids now learning lacrosse.

Hey, we aren't building any more land these days, and all I ever hear from the sports groups is they don't have enough playing fields.

That being the case, why are we destroying a decent place to play? Why aren’t we using our creative minds to find uses for the field other than a parking lot?

Sure the field looks pretty scrubby in the winter when the local patrons park their cars on the field while they skate on the frozen White's Park pond, but are we ready to trade all the recreational potential the field has for a 92-car parking lot? C'mon on.

Let's be realistic here. When was the last event at White's Park that demanded the need for parking 92 cars? And if you can come up with one or two, why are we demolishing all that perfect - well, maybe not perfect, but usable - land to put in a 92-car parking lot?

Could it be there's an 800-pound gorilla lurking in the shadows? Could it be one of the neighbors pressuring the City to find relief for one of its problems? Can we be frank, or better yet Frank, or even better yet Franklin Pierce, as in Franklin Pierce Law Center?

Could the Law Center be the reason I'm standing on the infield dirt with Kevin Costner in my dreams? Is the Law Center, with all its parking problems, the real reason we're ready to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot" (with appropriate props to songstress Joni Mitchell)?

Do the dreams in someone's field include bulldozers, graders, and a paving company rather than dozens, even hundreds of kids playing games on a field in the middle of the city over the next 25 years?

Let's think again about a parking lot in the middle of what's described as the "crown jewel" of our park system.

If you need a parking lot, fix the ones that are there, don't "pave paradise."

(The previous piece was submitted to the Concord Monitor as a My Turn article. No response yet as to whether or not it will run.)


I can’t make this up. Another facet of the White’s Park renovation plan is to pave over the hockey rink so it can be used for other activities in the summer like lacrosse, inline skating and – I’m guessing you can’t read the next word without some type of response - hopscotch!

Now when was the last time any of you saw a brutal game (and is hopscotch really a game?) of hopscotch break out at White’s?

I’m betting you can remember the old Shuffleboard court painted on the basketball court before you can recall a hopscotch game or match being held at White’s.

Is this the Red Sox version of the Pink Hats taking over White’s?

They also plan on renovating the big league diamond that is long overdue. As the hard core baseball fan knows, the infield grass is supposed to concavely crown in the middle (sort like looking at your contact lens when you put it down on its rim) so if you were flat on your stomach along the first base line you should not see the shortstop dirt, for instance.

Now, why you’re flat on your stomach along the first base line is your problem, not mine, but I swear it wasn’t the Jic-Jac soda.

Anyways, the White’s Park infield is just the opposite. The infield grass is convexed (I guess that’s the word) to the point where you could have ducks swimming in the infield grass up until about the 15th of May or even later.

Now here’s the rub on the big league diamond: I’m told that 2008 is the 100th year of Sunset League baseball and yet the City is planning on digging up the field to fix it beginning soon.

So much for a gala celebration of the 100th year.

Here’s a quote from the newspaper article on the White’s Park renovations: “The parking lot’s always been horrendous.” That from a 31-year old stay at home mom. Now just how long does her “always” encompass? This past year? A couple of years? Maybe as far back as the turn of the century? Man, she certainly has a historic perspective of White’s Park.

So if the parking lot is in trouble, fix the damn thing. Put in the stripes and handicapped spots the article cited as not being there.

But why in hell are we tearing up a baseball field, soccer field, lacrosse field, play area for 92 cars? Even when the peanut carnival or the water ballet were at their fever pitch and the Sunset League was going great guns, they didn’t need 92 parking spaces.

In fact, a couple of years ago I went to three Sunset League games at White’s and the highest attendance for any of the three games was 11!

The plan also calls for closing the road that travels through the main portion of the park. Funny, but I always thought that was a safety issue for the Concord police.

Changing subjects on the fly: If someone volunteered 37 years of his or her life to a non-profit organization, serving admirably all along the way (as in not throwing pizza at umpires in a fit of rage), the governing board would likely be thinking about naming something after this person.

So how come the Concord National Little League tried to run off Mike Sartorelli after 37 years of devoted service to the baseball and softball playing kids of Concord’s South End?

I don’t understand either.

Just to give you all some comparisons. When the Red Sox played the Dodgers in LA a few weeks ago and the fence in leftfield was 201 feet away from home plate…….well that’s one foot deeper in leftfield than the fence at Grappone Park!

Don’t want to put any pressure on him, but here’s betting that if the paving project does go through that Duncan Matthews will have a really hard time putting in a bid on the project. It would be like desecrating holy ground to a CWPG (Certified White’s Park Guy).