An OKC Field of Dreams and ghosts of baseball past

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A group of OKC adults turned the Northeast High School baseball field into their own ‘Field of Dreams’ for an afternoon

Moneyball is one of my favorite movies. It shows the impact that using computer statistics to drive player development had on Major League baseball and the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s.

The movie features a host of memorable scenes, including one where Oakland outfielder David Justice asks new first baseman Scott Hatteberg what he feared most at the position.

Hatteberg had been a catcher all of his professional career, and to that point had never played even an inning at first base.

“A baseball hit in my general direction,” was Hatteberg’s honest reply to Justice’s question.

That’s exactly how I felt Sunday afternoon as I stood in right field at the Northeast High School baseball field.

I was there at the invitation of my friend, Russ Florence, who invited a group of fellow adults to “have a catch” with him.  A lifelong baseball fan, Russ began his informal monthly “catch” several months ago.

It was sort of a Field of Dreams-come-to-real-life opportunity for those of us who once played the game or have followed it all of our lives.

The baseball dreamers who came out Sunday included several guys my age or older, a few younger and a couple of women who showed more agility than most of their male counterparts.

I dug my old baseball glove out of the closet and joined about a dozen others at the Northeast field.

Unfortunately, the experience revealed exactly how the passage of time has robbed me of athletic ability, real or imagined.

Once upon a time, I thought of myself as a pretty good baseball player. Now that was in Little League in College Station, Texas, followed by Pony League as a 13- and 14-year-old.

Here’s how it went five decades later on a warm November afternoon beneath a bright blue sky.

First, we warmed up by playing catch with a partner about 40 feet away. I put most of my throws into the ground in front of him or several feet to his left.

My shoulder ached after about 15 minutes. My glove hand screamed with pain from catching baseballs in the heart of the mitt.

Then came the real embarrassment. I stood in right field as Russ hit flies and grounders to players stationed at infield and outfield positions.

He hit one in my general direction.

My feet felt like they were in quicksand as I “ran” toward it. I could not bend over far enough to even make a stabbing attempt at a catch.

I hung my head in shame. No one seemed to notice.

Russ hit about three other balls in my direction. I managed to catch one on the bounce barehanded, but caught none before they hit the ground. I decided if a ball wasn’t hit within three feet of where I was standing, I had no chance.

But the day wasn’t a total loss. I had the opportunity to visit with some old — and new — friends. The weather was pleasant watching from the dugout, where I spent much of my time.

“It really scratches an itch for a lot of people,” Russ told me afterward. “None of us is as good as as we once were — or as good as we THINK we once were. I’m glad you were there.”

Thank you, Russ, for inviting this ‘ghost’ of a former player to experience your OKC version of the Field of Dreams.

Even if it brought home a sobering reality of aging.

Don’t let your facts get in the way of my beliefs

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A set of Encyclopedia Americana from the 1960s.

When I was a kid, we had a big set of Encyclopedia Americana in our house that was my go-to Google-of-the-day for every bit of fact finding and trivia that drew my interest.

Once, when I was a teenager, my dad and I had a disagreement over some fact about a foreign country or its people, I can’t remember which.

However, my dad was spouting an opinion as fact that I was certain was wrong. So, I grabbed an encyclopedia, looked it up and read the part to him that proved that he was wrong.

“Now you’re taking it too far,” he said, clearly irritated.

Translation: don’t let your facts get in the way of my entrenched beliefs.

Anyway, I’m writing this because we’re seeing people in our society make up their minds and cling to ‘alternative facts’ when clearly there is no evidence to back them up. Or there’s evidence that shows that it is wrong and they still cling to their beliefs.

The dispute over vaccines, for instance. People would rather take their Uncle Jimmy Joe’s word that the COIVID-19 vaccines are making thousands of people sick or, worse yet, killing them, than accept statistics kept by health care professionals and scientists that show vaccines are incredibly safe and effective.

I’m pretty sure it’s really an issue motivated first and foremost by political beliefs. Red state. Blue state.

But we all stake out our territory on different issues and refuse to budge even when we’re smacked in the face by reality. I’m sure I’m guilty, as well.

And that leads me to an issue that really disturbed me this week. One of my neighbors whom I like and enjoy hanging out with in his driveway, stated as fact that a high-ranking OKC city official gets a cut from every concession sold at Scissortail Park because he made a donation to its construction.

I ask him to offer some proof. “They reported it on Channel 9,” he said.

If it had been reported on TV or in the newspaper, and there was evidence to support the allegation, the story would be huge and talked about by everyone in the city. The official would likely lose his job.

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Scissortail Park in early November

Instead, it’s told as fact by a retired OKC resident who is skeptical about the whole MAPS program and Scissortail Park, as well. He doesn’t need actual proof, because he heard the story told as fact from others who share his point of view.

I even ran the allegation past a respected reporter for The Oklahoman that I trust and who told me that “none of it is true.” I’m taking his word for it, because, if true, it would have been a giant Page 1 headline.

The disturbing aspect is that my neighbor repeats the story to anyone who will listen, and in my far north OKC neighborhood there are a lot of takers.

I think some of it has to do with the fact that our neighborhood is so far out of the city’s core that people like my neighbor don’t see the benefit that MAPS and Scissortail Park have brought to our city.

As I walked back home after the encounter the other day, I couldn’t help but think of my dad and his long ago wrongly held opinion-as-fact. Even the Encyclopedia Americana couldn’t budge him off his belief.

Sad to say, that’s how it is with a lot of American society today.

Scenes from a park

OKC skyline seen from the footbridge across Scissortail Lake

I’m embarrassed to admit that Thursday was the first time I have visited OKC’s new Scissortail Park since it opened last year.

I had stepped on the grounds just a few weeks before it opened to shoot some photos of the new convention center under construction, but had not returned.

However, the park drew my son and me downtown late in the afternoon to shoot some photos of the OKC skyline and scenes around the park.

We arrived about 7:30 pm, and had no worries about social distancing. There were no crowds for us to negotiate, because we saw just a few families strolling on the grounds.

So, we parked in the boathouse area along Hudson Ave., and walked into the park.

Convention Center just east of the park

I noticed two things in what turned out to be a fairly brief visit.

First, the downtown skyline vistas are awesome. You have unobstructed views of skyscrapers immediately north of the park. And it’s spectacular.

Second, this is a great place to walk for exercise. There are sidewalk/trails around the lake and throughout the park that invite you to walk or even ride your bike. We saw quite a few families strolling in the late afternoon light, along with a few bikers. Plenty of dogs on leashes, too.

Our walk took us across Scissortail Lake on the footbridge and then around the south edge of the lake back to the boathouse.

Although the park is a good 16 miles south of our house, I plan to return ASAP and walk a lot more of the grounds.