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  • Bill Chastain

Back to Brown Field

Visited the grounds of Brown Field Tuesday morning and everything came back to me.

The hallowed grounds met it’s demise back in the 1990s, but it once existed as the center of my universe.

Negotiating sand spur patches with barefoot and few cares, we played every sport imaginable at our makeshift playground we named after Charlie Brown.  The grounds probably should have been dubbed “The Brown Field Sports Complex” for its many venues, all of which surrounded our tiny three-bedroom, two-bath house on Tampa’s Dale Avenue.

Kids played outside in those days; video games did not exist (though, in fairness to kids, we would have played them had they existed) and “made in Japan” meant cheap. Everybody had a dog–ours was “Jingles”–and all were free to roam. Nobody followed their dogs to pick up their droppings either. If you stepped in said mess, and inevitable, someone always did, they simply went to the water spigot and washed it off.

During the early years, the front and back yards were used strictly for football. There was something regal about football played among blooming red hibiscus. Because of limited yard size, we outgrew Brown Field for large scale football games, but it remained suitable for games of “pass” in which Dad was the quarterback and referee.

The east side hedges were good for hurdling, and the west side palms were uprights for kicking the football – straight on style. Pete Gogolak had not yet introduced today’s soccer-styled version.

Dad felt as though chopping wood was the ticket for improving a baseball swing, but chopping wood and kids don’t mix, so he called an audible. Instead of an ax and a stump, he planted three posts into the ground in the east corner of the back yard, and with rope, suspended an old tire from a cross brace. The tire was positioned in the strike zone and brought a suitable target to strike with the thick-handled Jackie Robinson model Louisville Slugger. While I’m not sure if my swing improved much, I did hit a lot of home runs off Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Juan Marichal.

The narrowness of the side yard on the west side of the house limited its use to linear games such as horse shoes or “hot box.” Protected by a line of shade trees, the west side also had a brief stint as a dirt putting green when several of the Brown Field immortals helped with the conversion. After we removed the top soil, we smoothed the cool dirt underneath with rakes then a 2×4 before embedding tuna cans at each end for the cups. Dad wasn’t real happy, but he adjusted.  Before long he was sinking putts and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

A basketball goal was attached to the back of the house even though we had no pavement for dribbling. Finally, Dad gave my brother, Buddy, and me the chance to earn enough money to pay for a concrete slab. Numerous broken jalousie windows followed, but it never seemed to upset my parents. They’d simply get an extra jalousie from the utility room and slide it in to place.

A wood burned sign nailed to a spindly willow tree in the southwest corner of the lot read simply: “Brown Field .”

Later, Jingles became Brown Field ‘s lone immortal upon her death at age 11. Like Yankee Stadium, Brown Field paid homage to its immortal with a monument honoring Jingles, who was buried next to that willow with a slab of granite serving as her memorial.

Brown Field wasn’t physical attributes rather a state of mind fueled by vivid imaginations. I can still close my eyes and be back at Brown Field on a hot summer day.

Every kid needs a Brown Field .

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