Monday, April 10, 2006

Diamond of dreams

ROME, Ga., April 9 – They play baseball in what used to be a cornfield here in northwest Georgia. Nope, Shoeless Joe Jackson didn’t come walking out of left field this afternoon. But this is as close as it gets to a field of dreams.

Single A is the bottom rung of the tough-to-climb ladder that is minor league baseball. Most of these guys will never wear a major league uniform. Oh, some might have a cup of coffee for a few minutes. But only a few, if any, will make it to the Show.

State Mutual Stadium is a beautiful diamond. Fans flock here in the spring and summer to root on the Rome Braves. There isn’t a lot else to do except eat and go to the Wal-Mart.

One Rome native says boys used to play ball here in the cornfield, long before an organized team ever showed up to build a park. He says children used to wade into a stream near here and go swimming.

He and his wife have been married for 53 years. They met just before he went into the service to fight in Korea. They don’t know all that much about baseball, but they catch a few games a year.

He finally got help from the VA hospital in Atlanta. She’s worried about prescription drugs. But they make it.

The Braves have a shortstop with a decent arm and a great name – Elvis Andrus. Each time Elvis comes up to bat, the public address announcer blares Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.” The fans love it and cheer.

Elvis is being touted as a minor leaguer to watch. He’s only 17. Today he’ll go 1 for 4 with a walk. But he turns a couple of tough plays to first.

Rome starter Beau Jones struggles early, walking two in the first and giving up two runs in the first and third. But he settles in and the Braves rock Kannapolis starter Ryan Rote in a six-run fourth inning. Rome wins 8-2.

The crowd is down for an endlessly blue spring Sunday afternoon. The official attendance is 2,794, but the closer number was something like 2,000. It matters not.

There is something almost religious about baseball in springtime. The earth is new again. The sky is blue and the grass is green. The season is full of possibilities. Wishes do come true, each team can win a championship and everyone has a chance to make it to the bigs.

It all begins right here, in an old cornfield, on this diamond of dreams.

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