May 29, 2023
How Naming The Oxford Little League Field Is Important on Memorial Day
Jan Greenhawk, Editor, Easton Gazette/Editor, Radio Free Oxford
Link to Original Post in the Easton Gazette: A Small Field of Dirt That Was So Much More
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always as a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” – Cicero
Oxford T-ball and Coaches
It looked like just a small field of dirt on the edge of a little town, Oxford, Maryland. The grass had started growing on the once carefully smoothed infield soil. There were two little ramshackle dugouts on either side, and two buildings off in the back. To anyone who had never seen it, the little field looked like a relic whose time had come and gone.
To the people of Oxford, those who had lived there for decades, it was so much more. They remembered a time when semi-professional baseball teams, softball leagues, t-ballers, and little leaguers played on that field. They remembered the towns people in the stands, the parents helping in the concession stand, and the moms and dads cheering every at bat and catch.
Oxford Little League, 1962
They remembered the names of the volunteer coaches, Abbott, Balderson, Hayes, Greenhawk, Bradley, Ledford, and so many more. They smiled at all the lessons young people had learned on that field, lessons about baseball, how to catch, how to throw, how to hit, but so much more. They remembered the year that a young team lost every single game in the season except for the last one, a game that would remain as a great moment in their young lives. It was their World Series.
The youngsters, now many middle aged, remembered how they were taught to win and to lose with grace, how to compete with honor, how to be a team, how to respect others, how to test themselves and their limits.
Oxford Little League
And they had fun. Some of the younger ones picked flowers in the outfield and enjoyed a day of fresh air. Older ones loved running from base to base, sliding and kicking up dust and dirt. They hit homeruns and doubles. They had free hot dogs at the end of games and free hugs from their loving parents and friends. They chased each other around the trees after games and jumped on the grandstand that stood right behind the backstop. Time stood still for them.
There were picnic lunches and family gatherings at games when generations came together. Some of the older ones bemoaned the fact that they could no longer play like they once had, but they enjoyed watching the kids have their moments. Some days spectators complained about the heat, and other days they complained about the frosty wind of Spring.
And the field was a mark of pride for the small town even as the younger generation grew up and moved away. The field was a sign that Oxford was still young, still alive, and not merely a place for aging retirees. It was hope that said, “Some day we will have children here again!”
It was a mark of pride that so many of the young boys and girls who had played there went on to play at higher levels, earn high school championships, play in college, and become adults who understood that they could give back to new generations by volunteering, coaching and teaching the same lessons they had learned on that small field of dirt. Some had children of their own who would hear the tales of little league glory.
One day, there weren’t enough children left to play on the small field. So the town decided to get rid of the dirt infield, move the bleachers, tear down the back stop and outfield fence. They planted grass and trees where the dirt had been. They planted trees where bases had been. At the request of some, they left the dugouts. For many who had never seen the little field, it looked more like every other generic park in every other town.
They named it “Central Park” even though it was not central and had nothing to do with New York City. They took waste soil and fashioned a huge, ugly hill where the outfield had been. They even put a sign on that hill naming it after the town administrator who designed the changes. They proposed chess tables, boccia courts, and sites for other sports for sedentary elders. While children from the kids’ camp practiced their archery there every summer, the field was no longer a place for child’s play and competition.
And the townspeople who were new didn’t know the history of this field and how many young people it impacted. They didn’t know that these people, now adults, would drive by it when visiting their childhood home and remember the games, the practices, the fun, the challenges, and the guidance of those hundreds of volunteers who gave their time to show them how to play and how to be generous, kind, helpful and good people.
The new townspeople had forgotten and those running the town let them forget by creating their own fake legacy for the little field by suggesting meaningless names that were an insult to the history of Oxford.
Some of the townspeople didn’t forget. Some of them showed up to remind the people of the town the real history of the little field. They didn’t want the little field given a ridiculous name that had no connection to the town. They wanted it named something like, “Oxford Coaches Field,” or “Oxford Volunteer Park” so that all who saw the name would remember what really happened there. They suggested a remembrance plaque with history and pictures.
They wanted a broad remembrance of all who passed through that field and gave their time and love to a sport, but most important, to countless generations of young people. It wasn’t about one coach, one volunteer, one player. It was about all of them, together, like a team.
They knew that anything less than that would be an insult to the true legacy of Oxford and the little field and would chip away at what Oxford once was and still should be. The history ignored would be history lost.
Oxford Baseball Team
Writer’s Note: It’s important to remember why we name places. It is to honor those who did something special. It’s why we have Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, etc. While they did not give their lives as our brave soldiers did, the coaches, volunteers and players of Oxford Little League did something special and deserve to have this park named after them.
Photos courtesy of Tom Cottingham, Sarah Mayock