Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nostalgia ... and a diamond in the rough

Twenty years ago or so, my children played baseball and softball in the former Garfield Y Little League at a complex known as Emhardt Stadium, a name I first heard only within the past four or five years. In all the years my kids played ball there, I never heard anyone refer to the grounds by anything other than "Garfield Y," which was located at the intersection of Southern Avenue and Pleasant Run Parkway, South Drive, on the Southside of Indianapolis, just west of the South Village Neighborhood.

The property -- all 1.53 acres of it -- was established for park and youth recreational use in the 1920s, according to a blurb I found on the Internet. I don't know when Little League started there, but 1.53 acres didn't allow for much room. I can comfortably use the term "spartan" to describe the complex's facilities based on what I eventually would see of other Little League complexes in Indianapolis when the kids would have to travel for all-star games and postseason competitions. We were a David (in terms of accommodations, not necessarily in talent) to those Goliaths. But even though the facilities were spartan, I don't remember hearing anyone at Garfield Y complain ever. People were happy to have a place for the kids to play ball, and they adapted to what there was to work with.

Garfield Y had two diamonds, one used strictly for Pony League hardball (underhand toss, co-ed ages 5-7), the other for Minor and Major League baseball for boys and softball for girls (ages 8-10 and 10-12). It also had a concession stand; two dugouts; some aluminum stands along the third-base line; and a press box above the first base dugout that, early on in the years my kids played there, was seriously damaged by fire and never rehabbed. Access to it was closed off.

I hadn't visited the complex since the last of my kids had played there, which would have been around 1995. In a fit of curiosity, nostalgia and a desire to photograph something "new," I strolled over there Tuesday afternoon to see what had become of the grounds. I knew the league had folded some years back, but I didn't know whether any semblance of its use as a ball-playing facility remained. After my visit this week, the quick answer to that is "no."

I don't think my kids would recognize the place. It has been converted to a park; it's grassy (it looks like it is mowed regularly) and open except for a playground and modest covered picnic area on the far west end, near where the outfield fence for the Pony League diamond used to be. The no-outlet extension of Pleasant Run Parkway west of Capitol Avenue, where people used to park on the creekside right of way, is gone. It's now all grass, folded into the park. The picture leading off this post shows where safety posts have been installed at the parkway's new terminus ... and where the roadway used to continue about 100 yards farther before stopping near the creek. The Minor and Major league diamonds used to be in the area to the right of the big trees in the picture, home plate about 60 or so feet from the far-right-big tree, and the left field fence bordered Southern Avenue, which would be just in front of the row of trees on the left in the far background. The Pony League diamond was in the far center background, just about where you see the playground. An aerial photograph of the site probably provides better perspective. The Pony League diamond was on the left, approximately where the playground is located; the Major/Minor League diamond to the right of that, with home plate near the cluster of trees. If you look real hard, you can almost make out the outer rim of the infield (darker shade of grass) on that diamond.

After my visit there, I walked east on Pleasant Run Parkway, South Drive, ducking down to the creek wherever there were clear accesses, to take pictures. About a block or so before reaching Meridian Street, I came upon a landscaped oasis amid the homes on the south side of the road and a modestly landscaped patch of real estate on the right of way on the north side, adjacent to the creek. As I approached the right of way patch, Ray Ford, who lives in the home whose yard I had noticed, walked out to greet me. Even though contractors appeared to be about midway through a job to put a new roof on Ford's home, the property's beauty -- largely the multi-garden side yard -- stood out in an otherwise visually unspectacular neighborhood.

Ford and I chatted for a short while. He told me about his development of the various gardens, how three blue heron often visit the creek across the street in the predawn hours, and of his military service in Vietnam, which he said included surviving some serious combat wounds. The irony of the latter became clear moments later when he told me -- in explaining the slight rasp in his breathing and voice -- that sometime long after he was out of the service he was taken down by "a bug" he had unwittingly inhaled. After experiencing breathing difficulty shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a progressive, irreversible pulmonary condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

He invited me to take pictures of his gardens and landscape work, which I gladly and appreciatively accepted. Some of those pictures are in this post.

Ford also told me that the Garfield Y Little League experienced an unfortunate demise. According to his account, the land was deeded many years ago to the city by its owner on the stipulation that it be dedicated for use -- in some fashion -- by children, hence the eventual development into the baseball and softball complex. Perhaps not long after my kids stopped playing there, the longtime caretaker couldn't manage the property anymore, so he signed it over to someone else. Ford said that "someone else" or a "someone else" after that -- he said the time frame was very short after the first hand-off -- quickly folded up shop and hauled away all the valuables, most of which would have been equipment in the concession stand and any cash still around, and abandoned the property. Obviously, the recreational use quickly ended, and the property stood idle for several years. I didn't ask Ford who seeded over the dirt infields or removed the diamond fences and dugouts. He did say the concession stand, the last building standing, finally was removed only a year or two ago. If you do a street view of that aerial map referenced above, and turn it around to look at the park, you'll see the concession stand structure in its last days. It was not there Tuesday.

Above: The view east from the playground, now in the area roughly where the Pony League diamond was located. Next two below: The playground equipment is in pretty decent shape.



Above: There was a narrow path between the two diamonds where a spectator could look east to watch action on the Minor/Major League diamond, which is what you'd be doing in this eastward view, or turn west (a 180-degree turn to your right or left) to watch the tots on the Pony League diamond.

Above: A sidewalk roughly covers some of the path where the extended roadway used to exist. The modest covered picnic area (with an in-ground grill) is off to the left; the playground, to the right.

Above and next two below: Once I left the park, I scooted down to Pleasant Run and photographed a blue-headed bird first spying me, then taking a quick splash bath before flying away. I felt fortunate to grab these three shots in the very short time this transpired.



Above: From the creek on the south bank of Pleasant Run, a view of Holy Cross and St. Joseph cemeteries, which are along Pleasant Run Parkway, North Drive.

Above and below: Shots taken of a birdhouse Ray Ford installed and a bloom on a plant nearby in the Pleasant Run Parkway, South Drive, right of way along the creek.


Above and below: Perspective shots of Ray Ford's side yard. In the photo above, you can see the contractors' refuse bin stacked with the old roof shingles.


Above and next six below: Detail shots from Ford's side yard. He's very fond of birdhouses; the birdhouse in the sixth picture below was among several installed in and around the tree in the back corner of the yard.







Above: Fungi growing wild in the right of way down the block from Ford's home.

Above: Another creekside capture, looking east. That's the Meridian Street overpass in the background.

Above: A sign compsition: Last Chance vs. Barringer's Beer Lunch. Mmmmmmm. Or should I say Huh?

Above: This structure at Pennsylvania and Yoke streets once was a public school. Sometime after it closed, the global engineering firm of R.W. Armstrong and Associates moved in and used it as its headquarters. Armstrong has since moved its offices to quarters in Union Station in Indianapolis, and this structure, now unoccupied, is up for sale.

Above and below: Shots of a hawk, eagle or falcon (sorry ... couldn't see it close enough to know for sure) in the sky above the former R.W. Armstrong headquarters.


Above: Also on the former Armstrong property, using a leafless tree and cloudy skies to exploit a backlight opportunity. The sun is poking through a very small opening in an otherwise heavy cloud thicket.

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this!!! Nothing like a trip down "memory lane"; and how disappointing to find that some of the loved and cherished locations we once knew...just aren't the same as our memory serves us. Some because of, well...they never were like that, and some because over time someone else had different ideas for those locations.

    I'm not certain your "blue bird" is a blue bird. Looks more like another bird I've seen with a blue head/black body...but I couldn't tell the full idenity from your photo. The mushrooms would not be something to eat (ony morels in this area). Actually I think these are a fungus of some sort that we call mushrooms (but not edible). The hawk/eagle...I tend to think this "might" be a peregrine falcon that is known to be in this area... (maybe???) Regardless, I think this is a hawk of some sort if not. AND...I really like that "last picture"!!!!!

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