On Their Sleeves: Part Four
The first time I went to the Lions Field in Norton was in the spring of 1996 with my first-born son Michael, who was eight years old at the time. He had an Instructional League baseball game scheduled there. We drove up and down Dean St. looking for the field. After several unsuccessful runs we saw cars pulling into a dirt parking lot and we decided to pull in too. Sure enough, the field was just over the hill and down in a hollow where it couldn’t be seen from the street. I immediately liked it.
Unlike traditional little league fields where parents sat on bleachers either on the first or third base side depending on which dugout their child was in, at the Lions Field all the parents sat together on a hill located on the third base side, which with all the spectators seated became a grass covered amphitheatre of sorts. The field itself was unkempt, but I looked past that and saw a “diamond in the rough”, even back then. Next to the field along the first base side, behind a slightly rusted five foot high section of chain link fence and beyond some wild greenery and tall trees, was a sheep farm. The smell and the sounds at the field were similar to what you’d expect at a petting zoo. Some people were bothered by it, but not me. I embraced it.
When I started the Norton Summer League in 2002 I got permission from the town to use the Lions Field. I mowed it once a week, raked the infield, and cleaned up all the trash on a regular basis. When Everett Leonard Field became unavailable for our “Tournament of Champions” in 2004, the decision was easy. Move it to the Lions Field.
In addition to all the ground renovations we did in preparation for the tournament (new infield, bases, mound, foul poles), we still needed water and electricity. I went next door to talk with the owner of the sheep farm. I introduced myself and asked if I could use the hose connection on the barn and some electricity. The owner, a small woman in her late fifties with silver hair, immediately told me that the sheep weren’t ordinary sheep, they were “prize sheep” bred for show and that she controlled the environment they lived in during the summer months with air conditioning and couldn’t risk sharing electric or water.
My father once rented a booth at a 4-H club fair where we sold boiled sweet corn on the cob. Although I was on crutches with a casted leg at the time, I hobbled around and saw firsthand the pride the people had in their animals. I completely understood this woman’s concerns. I thanked her for her time and began walking away...
Before I got very far she asked “Are you the fellow who takes care of the field and empties the trash?”
I turned and said “Yeah, that’s me-”
She went on “I really appreciate what you’ve been doing here over the last couple of years. It hasn’t looked this good in a very long time… Maybe you could hook up a few hoses to my house and use some extension cords to get electric over…”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“No, not at all!”
We had water and electricity for our tournament.
When Killington coach Ray Foley arrived at the field on Friday afternoon after a long ride from Vermont, he stood on the hill and gazed down at the baseball field in the hollow. With the American flag hanging on the foul pole in right moving just slightly in the summer breeze and a steady chorus of “baaaas” coming from the “prize sheep” next door, he looked at me, smiled, shook my hand and said, “What a beautiful field. Thanks for inviting us to play in your tournament.”