Spoken like Hamilton “Ham” Porter himself from the Sandlot, I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard, “Hurry up batter. It’s gotta be a short game, then I gotta get home for lunch.” from my brother, Travis, as we hit and fielded balls for hours on our property every evening for several years growing up.
If we would have had 7 of our closest friends there to join us each evening, we would have been a modern day Sandlot – we had the field, backstop, bases, equipment, and an abundance of baseball movie quotes to swap as we tried to outdo each other every pitch, and every hit.
Looking back, we were living the dream! How cool was it that we had our very own baseball field, open 24/7, 365 days a year?!?!
Well I’ll tell you; it was awesome, and it all started one Saturday when my grandparents were over for our weekly weekend dinner; the six of us began talking about putting a backstop in the open field on the other side of our driveway. To be honest, it didn’t take much conversation or convincing on anyone’s part because we all enjoy being outdoors and we all have a competitive spirit in us.
So, it was settled, we would break ground Sunday morning and build Melvin Stadium – an unfenced, 2-acre area, that was likely more manicured than an MLB stadium thanks to Dad’s enthusiasm about always keeping a pristine yard.
I couldn’t tell you how many hours and days Travis and I spent out there hitting and fielding balls – so much so, we found ourselves practicing before Little League games as evidenced by mom picking us up in the middle of driveway when it was time to head to the real ballfields.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Sometime shortly after constructing the backstop, laying down the bases, and running over several baseballs and softballs with the lawnmower, the idea of hosting a softball tournament Father’s Day weekend came up. Much like when we built the backstop, it didn’t take much conversation or convincing to have this idea come to fruition. (Our inaugural tournament was held Father’s Day weekend and every year after that it was in conjunction with Dad’s birthday, the Fourth of July.)
We created the guest list, compiled the rules, striped the field, chalked the foul lines, set up “stadium” seating, and configured the PA system…at last, it was gameday!
As the smell of BBQ lingered in the sweltering summer air, canopies and lawn chairs lined the first base side and behind the backstop as people decked out in red, white, and blue, ranging from ages 5 to 85, began to congregate at Melvin Stadium.
The Rules Were Simple
1. Men bat opposite handed
2. You play a different position every inning
3. Everyone must play, no matter the age – Aunt Carrie oversaw not taking no for an answer
4. AND, if you argue with the ump it was an automatic out and you were required to get everyone in the field a fresh beverage.
Covering Our Bases
Now every great ballgame needs a fair and honest umpire and every great ballpark needs an announcer as unique as the stadium. Lucky for us, we had our bases covered, pun intended – Grandpa Jim was our home plate umpire and our good family friend, Steve, was our announcer.
At 6’3’’, wearing his famous bright orange hat, Grandpa Jim called the game by standing to the side of home plate, with one hand rested on the backstop and a Marlboro Red in the other. He carefully assessed each pitch and if the count got up to 2 strikes on the batter, the next strike was “strike two and a half”, followed by “strike two and three-quarters”. Typically, by the 5th “strike” the batter made contact with the ball and was on their way to outrun the throw to first.
Grandpa Jim was also excellent at making calls in the field from home plate, it didn’t matter how close you were to the play, Grandpa’s call was always right – unless you wanted an automatic out for your team and the job of getting everyone in the field a fresh beverage, you didn’t argue.
Then there was the official voice of Melvin Stadium, Steve – full of personality, humor, and wit. Our games wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for Steve’s ability to give a rib-tickling play-by-play of the ball game. In typical Steve fashion, he would throw in sidesplitting one-liners as he announced the batters and his one-off commentary of various things taking place outside of the game would give Johnny Carson or Robin Williams a run for their money. Steve was certainly a fan (and player) favorite!
Of course, many of the players were characters themselves and the laughs we had on the field are too many to count. Everyone enjoyed themselves and it didn’t matter who won or lost because at the end of the tournament there was still plenty of beer to drink and hundreds of pounds of BBQ to eat…you can’t beat that, coupled with great company. Our family is truly blessed with the best group of people.
The End of an Era
We did these tournaments for several years, with our last one being 10 years ago at Dad’s 50th birthday. While the players and teams changed over the years, one thing that remained the same was that Grandpa Jim called every game and Steve was the voice of Melvin Stadium.
Everyone looked forward to that orange hat, pearl-snap, Wrangler wearing umpire call the games and that infectious smile, Mr. Personality, full of life announcer give us the play-by-play and batting line-up each Fourth of July.
Today, the backstop still stands, but not for long as Mom and Dad are building a new home. That backstop that we spent a weekend building and years of enjoying sits in their new front yard and is a bit of an eyesore. Though bittersweet that the hunter green backstop will come down soon, a little piece of Melvin Stadium will remain, home plate – for a reason far greater than nostalgia sake of the fun and laughs close friends and family shared on that field.
Angels in the Outfield
You see, Grandpa Jim passed away 7 years ago, and we lost sweet Steve last year. We’ll leave home plate as a tribute to two precious gentlemen who meant so much to our family and well, Melvin Stadium. We’ll continue to mow around it like we have for the past 15 years and each time we look west off of Mom and Dad’s new front porch we’ll be reminded of the joy Grandpa Jim and Steve not only brought to our family, but each and every person they met during their life here on Earth.
Just like in the Sandlot when Babe Ruth visits Benny Rodriquez in his dream and says “Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” – Grandpa Jim and Steve’s legacy will continue to live on at Melvin Stadium as they have in our hearts.