Published: Wednesday, June 9, 2004
America's favorite past-time plays out at Middlefield
"The one constant through all
the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like
an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard,
rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds
us of all that once was good, and that could be again." - James
Earl Jones as Terrence Mann, "Field of Dreams"
Photographs by Norbert von der Groeben, text by Cross Missakian
It's a hot afternoon, and the Palo Alto Little League season is
winding down. For PA Partners, this has been a tough year, but
they can still sneak into the playoffs by upsetting undefeated
Alas, clutch hitting and a disputed call at home plate fuel a
big two-out rally, and Hengehold takes command. Nobody is working
the scoreboard today, but the consensus in the stands is "about
eight to nothing."
Meanwhile, young Laurel Fisher seems more interested in staining
her face red with a snow cone than watching her 10-year-old brother
Graham play first base. Alex Zeglin, a freshman at Gunn, watches
his brother Jon pitch for his former team and waits for the chance
to say hello to his old coach, Dave Siegel, who has managed Hengehold
for 20 years.
A shaggy mutt laps up water from the old Red Vines tub that is
set out before each game. And a couple dozen parents, grandparents,
siblings and friends chat and relax as they take in the game and
cheer the ballplayers.
So it has gone here since 1952, when the sunken diamond at Middlefield
Ball Park was dedicated, establishing a place where generations
of Little Leaguers, and anyone else who cares to drop by, can claim
their slice of Americana.
Tim Sandborn runs the concessions stand, which has been a family
business for decades. A plaque above the snack bar honors his father
George, "coach, concessionaire, and good friend," who passed away
last year. On this day, Tim's own son, home for the summer from
Humboldt State, works alongside his grandmother Pat, at George's
Tim Sr. points with pride to the scoreboard beyond right-center. "No
corporate sponsors," he says. "Never will be."
Two members of the Palo Alto Fire Department
stroll up, and one mentions that Ty Cobb threw out the field's
ceremonial first pitch.
His partner is not impressed. "If Mr. Cobb had his way, we wouldn't
have seen the likes of Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays," he says,
referencing Cobb's notorious racism.
Seventy-seven-year-old Virgil Vesey likes to walk over and catch
a few innings once or twice a week. Seated on a folding chair and
shaded by a blue mesh hat, he sips coffee and looks at out the
same field where his son played in the 1960s. He still thinks like
"What he did there . . . he jerked his head and tried to throw
it too hard," he says.
Vesey recalls that the fences behind home plate were once lower,
and lacked the angled overhang. "There used to be a lot of foul
balls back here, and a lot of dented cars."
Rod Verhulp keeps score and watches his son Jake, who is playing
second base for PA Partners. A member of the league board, Verhulp
talks excitedly about the new positive coaching alliance program,
which, he says, challenged the coaches to "have the courage to
lose." But he pauses to encourage the players by name after every
Later, the team's faithful have reason to cheer when Jenner Fox
gets a hit to right and comes around to score after two bloop singles.
Excitement builds in the dugout, but Travis Bowers gets two quick
outs to end the threat, and probably the season for PA Partners.
That's OK, though, because there is always next year. There is
always next year.