Off the beaten basepaths

Off the beaten basepaths

The Prairie Fields sandlot boys are on the move.

The bats are swinging again on their homemade baseball field in Savoy, but in a new spot.

It’s one of those “making lemonade out of lemons” stories.

To recap: five enterprising Little Leaguers built a baseball field on several empty lots in the Prairie Fields subdivision last summer after outgrowing their own yards.
Blog PhotoThe boys spent weeks mowing and clearing the lots and scrounging materials from their garages to create Prairie Field — PVC pipe for foul poles, plywood for the backstop, spray paint for the baselines and on-deck circle, orange construction fencing for an outfield wall.

Their project caught the fancy of many subdivision residents, as well as the developer.

But when a new duplex started going up at the north end of the field, just behind home plate, construction shrunk the diamond by about 100 feet. The boys played for a while on the smaller field but eventually turned it into a gridiron for fall football games.

This spring they broke out the bats again, but the smaller field posed problems. Balls went into the street or hit adjoining houses. Some neighbors weren’t happy with the building supplies left on the field, which they said invited trash.

The boys adjusted the field and installed a larger wooden backstop. But after some back and forth with neighbors, the boys decided to move on.

“And then we came over here and found a hidden gem,” said Jake Meyer, 13.

“Here” is a lot just west of the old field, along Old Church Road. It’s bigger, and further from the surrounding townhomes, with the road and a railroad bed on two sides. No houses to hit there.

The boys hauled everything over and recreated the field, complete with yellow foul Blog Photopoles, spraypainted pitcher’s mound and a plywood backstop with the blue and yellow “Prairie Field Storm” logo.

“I was just messing around with the spray paint and made a lightning bolt,” explained 11-year-old Cade Hettmansberger. Hence, the “Storm.”

Gear is stored behind the plywood backstop. A dry-erase scoreboard (donated by a dad) is affixed to poles with duct tape, topped by a U.S. flag.

“They’ve gotten even more creative, and a little less messy,” said mom Nicole Hettmansberger.

Up to 10 kids show up to play at any given time. On a recent Wednesday, four boys were there before 9 a.m.

Tanner Klein, 13, was already wet after diving for a ball at first base.

“It’s muddy in here,” said Cole Hettmansberger, 13, standing from the batter’s box.

Mowers had come by earlier that morning, but a few feet into foul territory the weeds Blog Photowere forbidding. As in knee- to shoulder-high.

“We’ve lost like 10 tennis balls,” Cole said.

So far only one has gone into the road. The wind was blowing out that day, Tanner noted, and a slope up to the road helps keep balls in the field.

“It’s pretty far,” he said.

Overall, the boys like the new field better. It’s more like a prairie, and much bigger, Tanner said.

“It’s like our own little area to come hang out,” Jake agreed.

Drivers going by on Church Street slow to watch, or honk and wave.

Mom Petrece Klein said it was an unfortunate situation that has turned out better for the boys.

“They moved on. It’s a great lesson about people,” she said.

She hopes new development won’t move into the field this summer “because they’re having a lot of fun.”

“It’s a nice wide area,” she said, making an impromptu catch of a pop foul. “They really can’t bother anyone here.”

As she spoke, a village of Savoy truck pulled in to the field. Employee Kyle Despain Blog Photogot out and walked around to the back of his pickup, while the moms waited nervously.

He pulled out a bucket and handed it to them. Inside were two dozen baseballs that village employees had found at parks and lots around town.

“I really have no use for them. I like baseball, and I like what’s going on over here,” Despain said.

Moms and boys were touched.

“Hey, this one has our name on it!” Cole said, pointing to “Hett” scribbled in black Sharpie.

“I thought you had picked up all the stray balls,” his mom commented.

The boys hope to host a tournament this summer. Some friends have asked for advice so they can create a field in their own neighborhood.

How long will they play?

“Until we get too big and we’re hitting the street,” Jake said.

“Until we have to move again,” Cole said.

_________________

Julie Wurth blogs about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for the News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217) 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or twitter.com/jawurth.

Photos: Heather Coit/The News-Gazette

Top: Cole Hettmansberger, 11, takes a swing at the ball pitched by his brother, Cade, 11, as Tanner Klein, 13, looks on from the dugout at their sandlot baseball field off Old Church Road in Savoy on June 11.

Second: A makeshift dugout/storage area, foreground, keeps gear in check as Jake Meyer, 13, bats.

Third: Tanner Klein shows off the ball he caught.

Bottom: Tanner Klein keeps track of the score on the donated scoreboard.

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