Monday, March 30, 2009

Baseball Place No. 40: Centennial Field, Burlington, Vt.; and No. 40A: Community Field, Burlington, Iowa

Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt. is one of the oldest parks in the minors, cozy and reflective of the small town it calls home.

Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, is also a pretty small park in a rural state.

I’ve been to Vermont, but not to Burlington. I’ve been to Burlington, Iowa and went to the ballpark, but couldn’t get into a game.

But stories of this week’s flooding in Fargo, N.D. and Josh Pahigian taking us to Vermont remind me of one of the great adventures of my reporting career.

Josh taps Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt. as place No. 40 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I offer up the other:

Alternative Place No. 40: Community Field, Burlington, Iowa


Community Field is a neat story all to itself.

The home of the Bees was built in 1947 and rebuilt by community volunteers after a 1971 fire. The stadium was upgraded in 2004, but was in is small, older self when I visited in 1993.

Put on the plus side, it wasn’t underwater.

Here’s a tale from the archives. I spent time with a Red Cross team as it brought aid to communities in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa ravaged by floods.

I was finishing a travel story in St. Louis when I got a call from the editors to send my wife home, rent a car and catch up with a team of volunteers from Flint who were headed to Iowa.

The flooding was national news, and there was plenty of evidence in St. Louis, where the Mississippi was climbing the steps to the Arch.

But I was amazed by the size of the devastation on the outlying farmlands I saw while driving north on U.S. 61 through Quincy and Alton and Keokuk. Take away an occasional tree top, power line or silo, and I would have thought I was passing Lake Michigan instead of miles of crops.

The water level had already started to slip back by the time I reached southeastern Iowa. I’ll never forget the stench of the water, which smelled like rotting garbage. And there were flies everywhere.

Just touching the water was considered dangerous, and tetanus shots were dispensed like breakfast.

It was in this kind of environment that I caught up with the volunteers. Some were based in high schools, helping people get their lives back in order and providing a shoulder to cry on.

I was amazed at how much the Red Cross provided — clothes, food, cleaning supplies, mattresses and even hotel space until homes were livable again. All of which is provided through donations from folks like you and me.

The goal is to get people out of the shelters as quickly as possible, because there is nothing dignified about sleeping on cots in a high school gym with your possessions stacked around you.

Other volunteers hit the road, bringing meals to National Guard members and ordinary folks stuffing sandbags along the swelling Des Moines and Mississippi rivers.

Volunteers are asked to stay about three weeks, which is about as long as a person can last before enthusiasm and energy dissolve into depression and exhaustion. And they were largely the kind of people who can take three weeks off from work, a lot of good-hearted retirees, teachers in the summer and people with home businesses.

A helper named Norma was dubbed "The Sandwich Queen" for her ability to quickly turn 80-pound stacks of turkey and seven racks of bread into meals.

The paper let me take own photos in addition to reporting the story about the Red Cross and the flood.

Others are kind of colorful. One volunteer from Colorado was teamed with the Flintites, and wanted to talk about writing. He said he made good money writing for a particular kind of magazine — the kind with a lot of pictures and very little writing, if you know what I mean.

The impact on these close-knit small towns is hard to describe. One of them, Wapello, was so small that people not only don’t lock their house, but they leave their keys in their cars.

It was so small that my arrival was news, and it was known that I had touched water and not yet had a tetanus shot. A nurse from the local public health department tracked me down and gave me the shot.

The scariest thing happened when I was driving back to St. Louis, crossing a two-lane metal bridge somewhere near Keokuk. It was one of those bridges with the metal grates for a road, and if your car is stopped you can look straight down into the water.

And I was stopped for a while because a backhoe was stretched over the guard rail to dislodge fallen tree trunks and utility poles that had washed downriver and was stuck against a support pillar.

The water was rushing quickly, and was so high that it seemed to be only about five feet under the bridge. And at one point I looked upriver and saw something dark bobbing in the water.

As it got closer, I realized it was a tree — not a branch, but a full tree. As it got closer I realized there was nowhere I could go, with traffic stopped in both directions.

The tree finally struck the bridge with a large KLANG, and it seemed to shake for a second, but that was it, and I could exhale.

Naturally, I attempted to work some baseball into the trip. O’Donnell Stadium in the Quad Cities — not too far north of Wapello — was famously under water.

But Community Field was on high ground and not affected. It was locked up tight on the day I had some time to explore. I already had a cool Bees cap anyway.

But as I was headed out of town I saw the stadium lights on, a sign that life for these folks was slowly returning to normal. As long as there is baseball, things were looking a little better.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

He said he made good money writing for a particular kind of magazine — the kind with a lot of pictures and very little writing, if you know what I mean.

Oh, so he wrote for ESPN, The Magazine, eh? Waitaminnit, that hadn't been invented yet ...

YKW

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