Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams

27 May

Maryville, Tennessee sits at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and, within its bounds, there is a park called Sandy Springs.image-27

It is a typical park with walking trails, playgrounds and ball fields. However, those are not just any ball fields. For me and a lot of other people, they are the softball version of the Field of Dreams.image-28

They know that they have hit the pinnacle of the slow pitch softball world when they step between the lines. (For those in the fast pitch game, a field in Oklahoma City is considered the mecca. I have been on that field, as well. Nothing there compares to the feeling of what happens at Sandy Springs.)

Before I explain why this place is important to me, I should explain something else. When most people think of slow pitch softball, they think of weekends of drinking beer and horsing around. They may also think of a local church league. I am not talking about that kind of slow pitch ball. I am talking about elite athletes who travel around the country playing for teams that are sponsored by businesses and bat companies. I am talking about professionals.

As I have written before, my dad used to sponsor one of these teams, the Le-Al-Co Storms. I grew up traveling with his players and learning the rules of the road. For that reason, Sandy Springs became a special place in my life.image-29

Traditionally, we played the first tournament of the year at Maryville’s Spring Open. For the players, it was a time to knock off the rust. For me, it was the beginning of a summer of adventure. However, the first big moment at Sandy Springs happened before I could remember.

In 1974, Le-Al-Co and its ten players from Lebanon, Tennessee defeated the top ranked team in the nation to win its first state championship. It took two diving catches in the last inning to clinch the game, and it created stories that I have heard all of my life. There would be more wins, but everyone involved says it was their greatest win.

A few years later, Le-Al-Co won another state championship by beating its arch-rival, Rochelle’s Market. By this time, my dad had expanded to players throughout the state to make up the roster. Many people considered it a Tennessee All-Star team. That did not make the win any less sweeter. In the last inning, Rochelle’s had the tying run on second with one out. A fly ball out near the fence led the runner to advance to first. We appealed the play and said the runner had left base early. The umpire called him out. Ballgame. State champions. The other team went nuts.

Those were great wins, but nothing compares to being at Sandy Springs in July. That is when it hosts the greatest tournament in the nation, the Smoky Mountain Classic. Some say it is bigger than any national championship, and I tend to agree. There is nothing like playing on Saturday night. Thousands of people sit on the hillsides to watch the best teams in the nation. The sounds of Ray Molphy, the Voice of Softball, would boom through the night air. It is electric.

When I was a kid, I refused to go to the room because I did not want to miss anything. They tell the story that we were playing late into the night, and I was worn out. I was standing next to my dad when he looked over to find me asleep. I fell asleep standing up.

We played a lot of games in the Smoky Mountain Classic. We won a bunch and lost a bunch. However, two stand out more than the others.

In 1991, my dad, along with Louisville Slugger, sponsored a team that consisted of players from throughout the country. It was ranked first or second all season. My brother, who did not make many games, showed up that weekend. My dad, my brother, and I watched as the team battled through the loser’s bracket to finish second. It was the highest finish we ever had in the tournament. Two days later, my dad suffered a massive stroke that took him to death’s door.

The next season, I was coaching another team with Larry, who has spent as many nights in Maryville as anyone. It was called Datom Argus and was one of the top ten teams in the country. We found ourselves playing past midnight in the loser’s bracket against the top ranked team, Ritch’s Superior. Despite the lateness, it was a huge game. The winner would get a spot in the national tournament.

I do not remember all of the details of the game, but a few things stick out. The thousands of spectators were gone. Their sponsors and the tournament officials were sitting on the hill watching. Everyone needed and expected the other team to win. One of their best hitters popped up at a crucial time, and Larry taunted him. We were getting under their skin, and they were pressing. Bucky, who put the team together and was one of our best hitters, hit a home run that barely made it over the fence. Their left fielder threw his glove over the fence in disgust.

It was a close game, but we pulled off the upset. We showed up a few hours later to play the next game. Getting to Sunday in the Smoky Mountain Classic is a huge accomplishment, but we were done. Our big game had already been played.

A few months ago, I went to Sandy Springs to take these pictures. The scene was tranquil. People were walking dogs, and children were playing on the fields. However, I could feel something in the air. I could feel the crowd. I could hear the games. I tried to explain it to my wife, but she did not understand. I do not expect those who read this to understand, but Sandy Springs is a special place.

 

 

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16 Responses to “Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong May 27, 2014 at 23:33 #

    Emailed it to Garry. We are very entranced by ballparks … all kinds, even ones on which the Yankees play 🙂

    • Rick May 28, 2014 at 00:52 #

      Ballparks are a great place to be. There is a certain feel to them that you can’t get anywhere else.

      • Garry Armstrong May 28, 2014 at 18:29 #

        Great piece, Rick! Certainly resonates with this baseball fan. Thank you!

      • Rick May 28, 2014 at 19:22 #

        Thank you. Ballparks are places of great memories for a lot of people.

  2. Pam May 28, 2014 at 01:40 #

    I understand! Not only about Sandy Springs bring a special place, but what it’s like to be taunted by Larry.

    • Rick May 28, 2014 at 02:37 #

      Surely he would not talk to you like I’ve heard him talk to players.

  3. jcalberta May 28, 2014 at 17:00 #

    Nice pics. Looks like you could knock a ball into those trees.

    My Field of Dreams was the old Drumheller Memorial Arena – which eventually burnt to the ground in a spectacular fire (that some say could be seen 30 miles away). A blaze of glory. But before it went us kids played many a game there – felt like we were playing in the Montreal Forum. The Drumheller Minors won an Allen Cup here in 66′ – The Bentley brothers (NHL Greats) started here …

    Is that the wind … ?

    • Rick May 28, 2014 at 19:21 #

      That’s a heck of a fire. What caused it?

      • jcalberta May 28, 2014 at 21:11 #

        They were re-painting the inside – oil paint. Somehow caught fire … combined with ice making chemicals it was an immense blaze. i went down to watch and you had to stand over a block away as the heat was so great.

  4. DyingNote May 31, 2014 at 16:09 #

    I may not get the specific context but I understand. It reminds me of my cricket (not a game most Americans would know about) playing days.

    • Rick May 31, 2014 at 17:11 #

      I have watched cricket a few times. I can’t figure it out, but it looks like fun.

      • DyingNote May 31, 2014 at 17:17 #

        Well, it manages to unite a nation of a billion people that are prey otherwise to the usual human biases

  5. Dave Riley August 9, 2015 at 19:32 #

    I just bought a bat at goodwill that is a Worth softball bat that says designed exclusively go LE-AL-CO super storms. I was curious if you have seen one in the past. Pretty cool bat and nice story to go along with it.

    • Rick August 9, 2015 at 19:46 #

      That’s awesome. I have one, and my dad has one. We had no idea that other ones still existed. Thanks for reading my story and telling me about your bat. That really is cool.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Great Month of May | Surrounded By Imbeciles - May 31, 2014

    […] Sandy Springs Park – My Personal Field of Dreams […]

  2. The Boys of Summer | Surrounded By Imbeciles - April 3, 2015

    […] everyone. On summer weekends, I was cool because I hung around these guys. When they walked into a park, everyone knew who they were. As a result, they knew me, […]

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