Diamond in the Rough

July 22, 2001

When word got around that a local couple was going to donate a
real baseball field to our Denver neighborhood, there was much
joy among the Nuts. The Nuts, if you'll recall, are the Catholic
Youth Rec baseball team that I've been coaching for eight years
and that has consistently led the league in:

1) Jokes told. We require one joke per nine-man mound meeting.
The most recent was by Drewski, our first baseman, who, during a
very tense situation, asked, "What's brown and sticky?" Nobody
knew. "A stick!" beamed Drewski.

2) Rally rituals. These include, depending on how many runs we
need, caps turned exactly three inches to the left (if we're
close) and right pant legs hoisted above the knees (if we're
getting creamed).

3) Ground balls in the mouth. We've always played on the worst
baseball field this side of Chernobyl. It had a 40-year-old
backstop, a buckled dirt field and the largest variety of North
American weed this side of Berkeley. It also was the only
baseball lot around for miles. Every piece of decent parkland has
been gobbled up by the evil sport of soccer. And people wonder
why baseball is dying in the cities.

Then the Nuts heard that this shiny new ball field would be built
on the very spot of our hideous old one. They had only one design
request: a 30-foot-high root beer mug just beyond leftfield.
After every home run a random Nut would slide down the mug into a
giant pool of root beer.

The rest of the neighborhood, however, was underjoyed by the
couple's offer. "You're not going to want a fence, are you?" the
director of parks and rec asked the couple.

"A ball field?" a woman whined. "We don't want that kind around,
do we?"

"I hear there are going to be lights and a concession stand!" one
man wailed at a public meeting. "Won't that keep us awake?" I
replied, helpfully, "No, I heard they had to lose that to make
room for the chopper pad."

But enough arms were twisted and secretaries' dogs kidnapped
that, little by little, a field started popping up with stuff the
Nuts had never known: A mound! Dugouts! Infield grass! A backstop
that actually stopped the ball! A regulation home plate! An
outfield fence! Even a hand-operated scoreboard!

It was christened Fishhack Field, for reasons only the couple
knew. Unfortunately, two weeks after the construction crews were
gone, Fishhack resembled a dead mackerel. The sod was yellow,
home plate was a swamp, and the infield dirt had more ruts than
deer-mating season. Still, I loved Fishhack. It was our home
field.

The Nuts and I took it upon ourselves to try to turn Fishhack
into Coors Field. We mowed it. We raked it. We even lined it with
a bag of flour one of the Nuts got from his mom. When we were
done, the field actually looked worse--like a tractor pull had
torn through the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

That's when I asked the head groundskeeper at the real Coors
Field, Mark Razum, if he'd mind dropping by to take a look. After
he laughed for 10 minutes at our doughy baselines, he offered
some pointers on grooming the field and promised equipment and a
day of his crew's time. Mark Razum is God.

Things have gone Nuts ever since. Grounders suddenly found their
way into Nuts mitts. Nuts butts no longer got splinters from
sliding across our old wooden home plate. Nuts home runs were
followed by Nuts home run trots (occasionally backward). The Nuts
didn't lose at Fishhack Field on their way to a 9-1-1 record and
the regular-season title. If that can happen, can the 30-foot
root beer mug be far behind?

Sadly, the Nuts will never be a team again--they'll all be too old
next year at 15--and the trophies will soon be buried behind
pictures of girlfriends. But pant-leg-up rallies and mound jokes,
they last. So, too, will Fishhack Field.

Now the neighborhood is hooked on Fishhack. People are playing
family reunion games on it, holding company softball games on it,
planning fall leagues on it. Take that, soccer.

The wife and I even changed our morning walk so we could go by
it. Turns out we kind of like having that kind around. The other
day we saw only two people on Fishhack--a father throwing batting
practice to a little girl almost taller than her bat.

We both thought, Best money we ever spent.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

The Nuts' pant-leg-up rallies and mound jokes will last. So,
too, will Fishhack Field.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)