The American Individualist

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Jewel of a Diamond

By Joseph Kellard
September 3, 2006

Every few years I drive by Wrights Field, a Little League diamond in Oceanside, for a dose of nostalgia. In recent years, I noticed that thefield had fallen into some disrepair, but during a trip down memory lane this summer, I found a new chain-link fence had been installed, doors repainted and the outfield furnished with foul poles and other attractive additions. This suggested that, for now, an Oceanside landmark will survive.

For me, playing on that ball field while growing up in the late 1970swas something special. Previously, I had played on Flushing fields marred with patchy, overgrown grass, dusty dirt, rusted backstops and dried-up water fountains. When my family and I moved to Oceanside, I started playing Double A ball on School 4's fields, which had no outfield fences or dugouts, and parents stood or sat in lawn chairs along the bleacher-less foul lines.

Wrights Field, however, which was reserved for the older kids in adivision then known as the Majors, made you feel as if you were playing Major League Baseball. First, it was the only ball field in town with a designated name, like Wrigley Field, and with good reason. Wrights Field was a well-manicured, lush green diamond with an outfield fence, dugouts, bleachers, an electric scoreboard, a concession booth, men's and women's bathrooms, lights for night games and a P.A. system that blared your name tothe crowd when you stepped in the batter's box.

While other fields in Oceanside and neighboring towns had some of these features, none was the complete package like Wrights Field, a mini-ball park nestled along a canal lined with attractive homes and boats.

During my pre-Wrights Field playing days, I often practiced by swinging a wiffle ball bat at a tennis or sponge ball in my fenced-in yard, where I had used the front stoop as first base, a tree as second and the mailbox as third. Those were the years when Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" steamrolled over teams, Hank Aaron was wrapping up his illustrious career, the "Bronx Zoo" Yankees were winning World Series and the “Bad News Bears” movies werethe rage.

Ever the imaginative kid, I would create exciting scenarios in which Ialways came through in the clutch. While my baseball idols were greats like Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose and Rod Carew, I never pretended to be them. I was always myself, a power hitter who only had to routinely swat the ball over my chain-linked fence 15 yards away into a neighbor's yard to be their equal and MVP. And always in my head the Phil Rizzuto-like sports announcer or cheering crowd praised and applauded my heroics.

In reality, when I finally got to dig my cleats into Wrights Field withthe Lions Club, I wasn't even the best on my team, but I held my own. I was a versatile player who could strike out sluggers on the mound, chase down grounders at second base and shortstop and throw out base runners from behind the plate. Exploiting my best asset, my Jose Reyes-like speed, I robbed many batters of doubles and triples, dashing and diving for line drives in the outfield, and I even smacked a few inside-the-park home runs.

While playing at Wrights Field, I also got to taste championship status, helping the Lions Club take the National League title in 1977. Of course, my dream was to one day win a World Series with the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium. Playing with the Lions Club at Wrights Field, however, was as close as I'd come.

At least I can say I played on a jewel of a Little League diamond before some sizable crowds. For me, Wrights Field will perhaps remain the spot in Oceanside that holds some of my best memories. I'm happy to see it's been upgraded, and hope to be able to return there five to 50 years from now for my nostalgia fix.

Copyright © 2006 Joseph Kellard.


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