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My Field of Dreams

My field of dreams bordered a sewage treatment plant.

This satellite photo covers a portion of the neighborhood where I grew up in New Brighton, PA.  The field was across Routes 65/18 from Hank's Frozen Custard, a local landmark. The home where I grew up would have been in the upper right hand corner of this photo.  It's not there.  That whole part of town called "The Junction" was torn down for Federal housing in the early 70's.

In the lower left corner you see the Beaver River.  Mom and Dad wouldn't let us swim in the river and any fish we caught had to be quickly heaved back to their cancerous destiny. In the upper left corner you see the sewage plant.  Today they call it a wastewater treatment facility.  But we called it a sewage plant.  Below it you see the field where we played football and baseball and smoked ants with magnifying glasses. Now it's posted with No Trespassing signs.

But I remember another era when a baseball hit over the barbed-wire-bedecked, 8-foot chain link fence was a home run.  And tackle freezeball in the snow and/or mud was a joy young females couldn't comprehend. 

As a too-long and lankier eighth grader I was invited to round out sides with some bigger and stronger high school dudes.  I loped across the middle onto the receiving end of a Joe Humboldt pass followed instantly by a Ricky Messick clothesline.

I knew I had to bounce up quickly to have any measure of respect from this bunch.  And when I came to, I did.  I insisted I was OK and finished the game.  The vomiting later likely was a sign (in distant retrospect) of a concussion, but it mattered little.  I was inducted into the sandlot varsity that day.

This field was the stage of many shaping experiences.  A punk from uptown tried to run a sweep around my end.  The sideline was the edge of the drainage ditch along the highway.  I swear I hit him in bounds.  He still had some air in his lungs until the bottom of that ditch impaled him on my bony shoulder.  I helped him to his feet.  He looked me in the eye, somewhat surprised, but for the first time - with respect.

In another game when we Junction Juggernauts were playing the Uptown Punks I broke my hand on a diving touchdown catch.  Another day it was a cracked rib on a similar maneuver.  But through some strange mixture of dedication and stupidity I played on.

My first left-handed home run soared over the highway.  I felt like Barry Bonds except for my skin color, body type, strength, and overall athletic ability.

Lying in a shallow depression near the railroad tracks I'd shoot at birds on the wires overhead.  And think.  And wonder.  And dream.

I still think. And wonder. And dream. 

I've pretty much forsaken contact sports.  And BB guns.

But not dreaming.

Not hardly.

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