This quirky field, The Ball Park At Lake Gardner, was my very first Ray Kinsella moment. After seeing a Wiffle Ball Field for the first time at the World Baseball Classics in 2006, I decided to build my a Wiffle Ball Field. Building a field is like planning a vacation, you have to go through hundreds of plans, ideas, thoughts, the actual purchases and of course the finish product/vacation is playing the first game.
This field was what all backyard fields are about, it was built around what we had as a backyard. I expanded it as much as possible over time, to increase the playing field, but at the end of the day it was a quirky field, quirky rules, but it was perfect. Even the name, The Ball Park At Lake Gardner, was a cool name.
My a few of my best memories of the field during the years we played on it:
During the fall of 2006 I went to my first Fantasy Camp. As Jerry Seinfeld said to Kramer, My Life Had become a Fantasy Camp (Sort of), it was the National Baseball Hall of Fame Fantasy Camp. We were going to play several games on Doubleday Field, be coached by Hall of Fame Players including, George Brett, Robin Roberts, Ozzie Smith and Phil Niekro. I had never been to this type of excursion before. It was really a top of line 4 days.
The first full day we had some BP, shagged flies, and they spilt up teams, and we had our first game that afternoon. Our coach was Robin Roberts, and he only had one single for us, the middle finger! We were teamed up against the Niekro’s Team, Phil and his brother Joe. Joe like Phil was a knuckleball pitcher and he actually pitched the first game. The games were 7 innings and we were like 10-year-olds playing on Doubleday Field.
I was up in the bottom of 7th, with a man on first and second and we were down by 2 runs. With Joe Niekro pitching, this was a big spot and I had not realized we were in fantasy camp! I promptly lined a single to right center that brought in a run, now we are down 1. We have runners at first and second again, the next batter grounded to third, and they forced the man at second at third base. So there I am on second, 2 outs and Joe Niekro facing Myles (last name), Myles could really hit and it was later in the day so that sunny in right field was glaring. I had really good wheels, and sure enough Myles singles to right center and they bobble the ball, Enos Cabell the third-base coach is waving me in and I took a turn that was so wide at third, I should have been fined, the ball and I arrive at home at the same time and we had a three-way dance with the catcher, ball and me. I popped the ball out of his mitt and scored. Except I had no idea I scored I just ran into the catcher at full speed. So this monster of a man with the last name “BEER” (I thought it was a joke) picks me up and I am a little guy, he picked me up off the ground. I asked him was I safe? He gave me the biggest hug as I was and we tied and won the game with the next batter.
That is how I came to be friends with Danny Beer. Danny then talked me into going to Detroit Tigers Camp that February, which I did, and got to meet Joe Mansour and Gus Plous.
That spring, Danny, his wife Janey, Joe and Gus drove down from Michigan and came to visit us and play wiffle ball on my quirky little field. Sure enough, we played what was an epic game, it was not a pitchers dual, Danny played with my son and I, Joe and Gus played with my daughter.
There were hugs, cheers, diving catches, Gus hit a line drive so hard that I caught, my hand still hurts. It was truly the best time I can recall on that field. Danny, T and I pulled it out with a late rally, I think the score was in the 21-18 arena.
This is what building a field is all about.
Over the 3 years I owned the house that had this field on it, we played thousands of games. I got to enjoy my kids, family, friends, strangers just walk over and join in whenever they heard the pitching machine or the sound of a game.