Turning trashed into treasured

Coach Leron Fisher saw more than a rundown field - he saw a diamond

May 19, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Folks in Eastport's Harbor House community don't remember when the field started to become a junkyard.

It wasn't in the 1970s, when Thomas Abal, 76, watched the Capital ACs play softball from his back porch.

But slowly, over the years, weeds grew up, and the game of choice became flag football. That, too, stopped eventually. The fence behind what was home plate fell into disrepair, and broken glass littered the field. Then it became a dumping ground for a construction project for two years.

"It wasn't much of a sight," Abal said.

Now, it's game time again. With $15,000 worth of donations from three businesses, the field owned by the Annapolis Housing Authority has undergone an extreme makeover.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the May 19 Anne Arundel section misidentified Richard Callahan, an Annapolis Housing Authority commissioner and a former city parks and recreation director, as Dennis Callahan, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks and a former city mayor. The Sun regrets the error.

Now kids called Boobie and Burger and Deion field and hit and toss baseballs next to kids on a basketball court who launch shots to a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown.

They are the Eastport Tigers, or maybe the Housing Authority Tigers, depending on what their coach, Leron Fisher, decides.

For now, Fisher is just happy to have a team. The manager of youth services for the Annapolis Housing Authority, Fisher saw past the trash, the dips and the valleys. He saw a diamond.

"We started out with donated dirt and now we have one of the nicest fields in Annapolis," Fisher said. "This is like a field of dreams here, that's what it is."

Steve McHale, head of the Annapolis Baseball Club and owner of a landscaping company in Upper Marlboro, provided equipment and manpower for the renovation. Terra Nova Design, a Crofton firm, installed an irrigation system and Central Sod Farms provided 12,000 feet of sod.

The work was completed early last month.

"If we can help the kids out here, then we've done our job," William G. Strickland of Terra Nova Design said. "This is our gratification here, just seeing these kids out here playing ball."

The basketball court will be upgraded next, and the goal is to make the area a multipurpose field for soccer, football and other activities.

After a ceremony to thank the donors, Dennis Callahan, director of recreation and parks for Anne Arundel County, said: "We feel that this is one of the pieces of the puzzle to reaching these kids and getting them involved in sports leagues. We are making a lot of progress."

Over the next year, the authority will be pursuing more private partnerships to upgrade its recreational facilities, said Eric C. Brown, director of the agency.

Last month, 40 kids showed up for tryouts at the new field, and 12 made the team. Only one kid, Paul Johnson, 11, had played organized baseball before.

This summer, the team will play six exhibition games, having organized too late for league play. Uniforms and T-shirts are on the way.

Practice is twice a week after school.

On Wednesday, Fisher spouted advice as he chipped balls into the outfield.

Don't look at your glove.

Keep your eye on the ball.

Hustle, hustle, hustle.

He then took the pitcher's mound and called kids up to bat.

Burger, whose real name is Khyri Wells, tried to catch a ball he said is light but heavy, too.

Deion talked trash from first base: "Boobie, put your helmet down, yo. You look crazy."

Boobie, 10, in his long jean shorts, blue shirt and dusty black sneakers, ignored him.

His hat cocked back, he hit home base twice with his bat, then stared down Fisher, who was on the mound.

"I never played baseball before," said Boobie, 10, whose real name is Jakwaun Caldwell. "I asked my dad and coach how I'm supposed to hit, and they said keep my eye on the ball and hit it if it's a perfect pitch."

Residents took in the action on the field.

"You got it, you got it!" shouted Shirley Brown, as two kids clamored to catch the ball. "Sometimes I bring my little chair out here and have a good time. I've never seen kids out here playing like this. Now they have something to do."

As practice wound down, Fisher called in the team for sprints. They raced from one side of the diamond to the other, huffing and puffing and wanting to come in first.

"I like hitting and running and catching the ball so Mr. Fisher can be happy. Sometimes he says, `That's luck!'" Deion said. "But I'm a superstar already."nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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