CHARLOTTE: On Saturday, the balmy breezes of spring drifted across a baseball diamond filled with children under a cloudless Carolina blue sky for the 67th opening day of Myers Park Trinity Little League in Charlotte, NC. It was a day Coach Jake Wade would love.
But this day was even more special than most: It represents a metaphor of life where baseball comes full circle.
The benefits of sports team competitions to youth
For all the criticism of sports, the one common factor is competition. They teach children at a young age that life is not always successful. They show that nobody wins or loses all the time, and they demonstrate that life is a constant adjustment.
In a sense, ALS has many of the same characteristics, because it is a never-ending struggle to achieve a goal despite challenges that are consistently thrown in the way.
Unlike most sports, however, baseball represents a complete cycle. You begin at home and, in the end, you return to where you began. Only when you have circled the bases is the cycle complete, is success assured.
The birth of the Little League
Back in 1950, Ken McCullough returned to Charlotte after a visit to Pennsylvania where he brought news of an organized baseball league where youngsters competed on a scaled-down diamond, otherwise playing the game in the same manner as their full-size counterparts.
Everything had been miniaturized to accommodate youthful abilities and skills. The teams even had uniforms, umpires, a regular schedule of games and sponsors.
After McCullough related his story to friends Donald and Bob Bryant and Al Browne, the seed was planted, and in 1952 , Myers Park Civitan Little League held its first opening day.
Little League’s early days
Initially, the four charter members of the league, Harry and Bryant, Al Browne, Farmers Dairy and Blythe Motors moved from site to site, wherever they could locate a field on which to play.
However, it wasn’t long before the league absorbed three church teams, Myers Park Presbyterian, Christ Church, and Trinity Presbyterian. With the expansion came a new name, Myers Park Trinity Little League, and it’s been that way ever since.
During the next phase of development, the E.C. Griffith Company constructed a Little League baseball facility at the base of two hills off Randolph Road in Charlotte.
For nearly 40 years the tiny park served as home for MPLL, but there was something unique about that facility that kids who played there will never forget. It was a sign of the future. A glimpse into the dedication and spirit of those who love baseball that this league would become something special.
Grass, green lush grass
What was the magic ingredient? Grass. A soft, cool, manicured, lush carpet of green.
Yes, Myers Park Trinity Little Leaguers played on a grass infield and THAT made all the difference.
Even when players continued on after Little League into faster, bigger fields, they often played on skin (dirt) infields, but at MPLL the kids had grass, and it might as well have been the major leagues for them.
Progress eventually took over the valuable piece of land. The glorious little diamond disappeared, yielding to condos and hospital facilities.
Undaunted, the league continued with a new park on the other side of the road at the top of the hill. Now there were enough diamonds to accommodate several teams and soccer fields as well.
But the atmosphere just wasn’t the same. Yes, it was a place to play ball but some of that early magic had somehow disappeared.
All of that dramatically changed on Saturday, April 14, 2018.
The bygone joys of the sandlot baseball game
Organized sports for children these days is frequently criticized for not allowing kids to be kids. In the early days before Little League, neighborhood children would go to an open field at the back of a school and put down rocks for bases.
Bats were usually broken rejects that had been tacked together and wrapped with electrician’s tape. The ball was often black because it had lost its cover and also had to be wrapped with tape.
When teams didn’t have enough players the batter had to “call his field” saying he would hit the ball to left or to right. If he hit to the wrong side of the diamond, he was out.
Games usually ended when twilight made it impossible to see, and all too often, those white athletic socks we wore would return home with bright red stains from the North Carolina clay.
Critics say kids today need to use their imaginations more. They challenge children to break away from cell phones and video games and, to an extent, that is probably true.
The New Myers Park Trinity Little League – more than hotdogs and hot pretzels
But times change. In the 21st century, it’s no longer safe to play outdoors alone until dusk. There is a need for organized leagues and adult supervision…and grass.
Opening day at Myers Park Trinity Little League was even more special on Saturday, for it symbolized what baseball is truly all about. MPLL has, itself, come full cycle. The league has indeed returned home, and the new diamond has more than just grass.
On April 14, Myers Park Trinity Little League dedicated Keith Stadium and McCollom Family Concession Stand which features Ballpark Franks, grilled cheese sandwiches, BBQ, and hot pretzels to mention a few. From the outside, the Lilliputian brick stadium looks every bit like a minor league park or major league Spring Training facility.
Yes, the grass is there, but so is seating for about 2,000 fans, a PA system that blares country and western music, lights, ramps for handicapped fans and special seating for folks with disabilities.
The scoreboard is electronic with lights that show traditional runs, hits, and errors, but there is even a place that now registers pitch counts.
Harry and Bryant remain a sponsor, and the man who coached that team for nearly 6 decades is a Little League institution in Charlotte, NC.
Jake Wade, a local attorney, who dedicated his life to MPLL passed away last year, never to see the dedication of the new stadium.
Like baseball, his life had also come full cycle. Everyone, even his opponents, knew Jake and his love of the game.
A field of dreams
In the popular 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” actor James Earl Jones summarized what baseball means to Americana in a beautiful soliloquy in which he said:
“For reasons they can’t even fathom, they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. The one constant through all the years, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
Coach Jake Wade making it home
I often write about the irony of ALS and baseball. In many odd, unusual ways the two go hand in hand. You see, Harry and Bryant is a funeral home, and Coach Jake Wade has, indeed, come home.
You see, this represents the true “Field of Dreams.” It’s all part of that cycle of life that baseball so poignantly represents. And it all began with a little bit of grass.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up