Baseball, green grass, blue sky, empty field.

Not Just Another Town

Fred Everhart read the mail and felt sick. What would the kids do? Fred, head of the recreation commission, experienced what many American towns and committees felt - loss of funds.

Greenfield, Ohio, population five thousand, a town reliant on the auto industry, struggled in the 2008/2009 economy. Five hundred jobs (70% of the town's industrial employment) would be gone by October 2009. In Willington, the nearest town, DHL express announced it was pulling out, leaving another eight thousand employees without work. Due to the severe economic downturn, Greenfield lost fifty percent of the money budgeted to run the city and its recreation department.

The economy didn't factor in people like Fred Everhart. In January, 2009, Fred called a meeting. Twenty-five to thirty angry parents showed up to protest the loss of little league baseball. Their anger and frustration prevented productivity. The parents understood their own hardship, but how could a city face the same? The city always gets tax money. It was difficult for many to understand.

Fred, not to be beaten, called a second meeting, in which only nine people attended. They would become known as the "Gang of Nine". Together, they convinced the town to give them five thousand of the original twenty thousand dollars budgeted for little league baseball.

Greenfield had only one ballpark, which the city could no longer afford to maintain. The "Gang of Nine" convinced the city to give the park to them. Fred posted an advertisement in the local paper a few weeks before opening day - Memorial Day - asking for volunteers to help get the ball park in shape for baseball season.

On the designated Saturday morning, Fred arrived at nine in the morning and found only two others waiting. They looked out over the park. A small breeze picked up a piece of paper and sent it tumbling over the barren infield. The grass was uncut. Holes surrounded the bases, dug into the dirt by last season's players. Water rimmed home plate. A hawk circled overhead, waiting for a rabbit or mouse to exit one the many holes they had dug in the once pristine outfield.

Fred looked at his two companions, "Looks like it's just us." He surveyed the field. "Where's the flag?" He frowned, "For that matter, where's the flag pole?"

"It blew down five years ago." One of his companions said. "They couldn't afford to replace it."

"No matter," Fred said, "Let's get to work. We can't let the kids down."

They pulled their mowers, shovels, and rakes from their trucks and began to work. A half hour later, another truck pulled into the parking lot. Behind it, trailing dust, were more cars and trucks. They soon had fifty to sixty men, women and children working. The small army mowed the grass, painted dugouts, patched fields and mended fences. When the day was over, the group surveyed their work, and smiled.

A local newspaper picked up their efforts and printed a story. The "Gang of Nine's" efforts symbolized the strength of community. Their story was picked up by a national newspaper. Fred was overwhelmed with phone calls, emails, letters, and donations from around the country. They came from Hawaii to Vermont. One lady called from Illinois. She'd lived through the depression and knew what it was like to go without. She didn't want the kids to do the same. A few days later, Fred received a check for five hundred dollars from her.

Baseballs arrived. Twenty-four dozen came in one delivery from New Orleans. Donations of equipment arrived from individuals and little leagues in Pennsylvania and Illinois. The league was featured on "Good Morning America". They received more equipment from the major baseball leagues, and the Cincinnati Reds invited the entire Greenfield league (more than four hundred kids) to see a game at "Great American Ballpark" in Cincinnati.

Fred wasn't done. He spoke to members of the "Concerned Veterans of Greenfield". Their bylaws prohibited them donating money, but they donated a flagpole and a flag.

Fred spoke to a stone mason, Jay Hardy, owner of Hardy Memorials. Fred wanted to do something in return for the veterans. Jay agreed to donate his work to those who fought then and now. Fred expected a small plaque, but one morning, Jay pulled into the parking lot with a section of marble three feet, by two feet, by two inches. The flagpole and monument where mounted in cement.

The league made concessions: only one new baseball per game; the scoreboard and lights remained dark; and restrooms were locked, replaced with portable toilets.

Four hundred and fifty children, ages five through sixteen, signed up to complete forty-seven teams. On opening day, Fred and his gang surveyed the field once again. Fred remembers one thing - the sounds. He listened to the laughter of children, the crack of bats against balls, and above it all, the snapping of the flag blowing in the wind.

A call for silence - the national anthem played and the plaque was dedicated to the veterans who stood proudly along the first and third base lines.

"Play ball!" The umpire yelled.

The season was on.

On July 3, 2009, the last game was played. The last ball was struck. The last game of the season came to an end. The players, parents, coaches, and umpires left the field. The last breath of wind rolled a hotdog wrapper over the infield. The sun dropped below the horizon. The light of day faded. The stars and stripes gave a final wave in the dying day and then hung limp against the pole - vigilant - waiting for another season. One could imagine the sound of a bugler playing, signaling the end of the day, the end of a season, and the success of the volunteers. The day turned to night and all was quiet.

In the year 2009, the economy wrecked havoc across the United States and around the globe, but in Greenfield, it was beaten - Greenfield, not just another town.

~ Michael T. Smith ~

Michael lives in Ohio with his wife Ginny and his stepdaughter's family. You can see a list of Mike's stories here: And you can get his stories emailed to you by signing up here:  Please let Michael know what you think of his story:  Michael T. Smith
[ by: Michael T. Smith Copyright © 2010, ( ) -- {used with permission} ]

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