Wayne County Wanderings: Counting Down to Spring
There's something simultaneously sad and wonderful about a baseball field in wintertime.
It's the end of February and our romance with snowmen, hot chocolate and the warmth of the fireplace is beginning to wear thin.
March 1 marks the start of “meteorological spring,” bringing with it dreams of green grass, warm breezes and the return of our National Pastime.
Grapefruit League games are already appearing on television. Players are rounding into shape for what promises to be an exciting season.
And, even though there's still snow on the ground and another storm on tap for the weekend, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you … poised as we are between winter and spring.
An Epic Amble
Callie and I went for a long walk in White Mills this week, one that led us all the way to the historic diamond down on the banks of the Lackawaxen.
It was slow going for several reasons … not the least of which is Callie's penchant for stopping to sniff every interesting little tidbit along the way.
By the time we arrived at the Sports Factory complex, I was ready for a break. And, that was fine with my my intrepid little beagle.
One of her favorite things in the whole world is to frolic in the field. She bounds around and pounces on invisible prey. Then, she buries her face in a drift, tail wagging furiously, and flicks the snow up in the air with her nose.
I never tire of watching her. There's a simple purity about it that reminds me how important it is to play and be silly every so often.
While Callie cavorted, I plunked down for a few minutes and surveyed the scene. Sitting there on the ice cold bleachers, I could almost hear the crack of the bat and the echoes of a cheering crowd swirling on the winter wind.
In my mind's eye, I can see the pitcher go into his delivery … tense up as the man on first bolted toward second … rise from my seat as the batter rifled a line single to right … a perfectly-executed hit and run … cheer as the home team now suddenly had runners at the corners.
A rally was brewing!
I have many wonderful memories of this particular ballfield.
I played on it in Little League when my Murray Company Giants took on the White Mills Braves.
When I was very young, my Dad played on it as well. He had a summer job at Chroma Tube and joined the softball team almost immediately.
The whole family would pile in the car and head down there to watch. Mom would pack some toys and a snack to keep us occupied between innings.
I was happy just to watch the game and cheer Dad on, but Sean and Pat were more interested in playing with their Tonka Trucks in a sandpile with some of the other kids.
When I got older, I returned to play in Wayne County Men's Softball League games. Afterward, we'd all adjourn to the White Mills Hotel for beer and hot dogs … telling tall tales of our diamond exploits there around the keg as dusk descended.
When my own children were old enough, I took them with me to cover the annual Bill Bursis Benefit softball tournament.
We spent many a lazy summer day there watching the games, eating hot dogs and basking in the sun.
There's been a baseball diamond here almost since time immemorial.
I've seen many old Hensel photos of White Mills and the ballfield figures prominently in several of the best.
Once upon a time, there was a hotel between the railroad tracks and the river, owned by the Murphy Family. Not surprisingly, one of their sons, Eddie, became obsessed with baseball. It's not hard to picture him honing his skills on the hardscrabble ballfield.
Eventually, Murphy's skills transcended local competition and he left home to seek his fortune in the big leagues. He carved out a nice career for himself in the Majors, playing for more than a decade and even earning a World Series ring with the Philadelphia A's in 1913.
It's also quite likely that a bona fide legend took the mound a couple of times in White Mills.
Christy Mathewson, one of the Hall of Fame's original inductees, pitched for Honesdale in 1898 and 1899 at a time when the two towns often battled for bragging rights.
“Matty” is regarded by many as the very first bona fide baseball superstar … the kind of player who appealed to men, women and children of all ages.
He was the “All American Boy” and it's a good bet he packed 'em in when White Mills and Honesdale squared off.
Over the course of the last few decades, the White Mills ballfield slowly fell into disrepair.
Chroma Tube closed, the railroad became overgrown with weeds. Town team baseball disappeared and softball events became few and far between.
Thankfully, this depressing slide into oblivion has recently been reversed. Thanks to new owner Rudy Schemitz, the property has received a major facelift.
Rudy brought his company “New Wave Custom Woodworking” to town and then leased out a huge amount of space to the indefatigable Steve Pinto.
Pinto is the mastermind behind “The Sports Factory of NEPA,” a brilliant endeavor that's now home to everything from field hockey and gymnastics to martial arts and flag football
Most exciting of all is the fact that baseball will be back in White Mills this spring. The Sports Factory complex will be hosting a brand new youth baseball organization, “Wayne Highlands Little League,” during the 2019 season.
Construction of a parking lot and the diamond itself is already underway with a target date for games tentatively listed at late April or early May. Heady times in White Mills, folks!
My wintry reverie ends with a cold, wet nose nudging at my hand.
Callie's done playing. She's looking up at me with those big beagle eyes. She wants to go.
“Okay girl,” I say, patting her on the head and taking one last look around. “Time to head home.”
Half an hour later, we're snug inside the Charles Street Manor. Callie's had a snack and is sprawled on the floor, snoring contentedly in front of the fireplace.
I'm hunkered down on the couch, clicker in hand, ready to watch my beloved Metsies as they battle the Braves at Port St. Lucie.
I smile to myself at the thought that it won't be long until I'll be down there as well. This marks my 18th year traveling to Spring Training, my favorite 10 days of the year.
Soon, I'll be sitting in the sun-soaked bleachers with Dad. We'll be slurping eight dollar sodas and champing on ridiculously large hot pretzels as the game unfolds
And, I can guarantee you this: Neither one of us will be dreaming of winter!