My childhood nostalgia took a hard hit this week.
As I drove back from visiting my parents in West Jordan, I decided to take the long way home and drive past the baseball diamond I spent my summers on during many of my elementary and junior high years.
But it wasn’t there.
As I turned off Misty Way and through the iron gates that read “Kearns American” on the archway, all I could see was a scene from a post-apocalyptic video game or Halloween-time theme park that might have been titled something like “American Zombies” or “The Sandlot’s Forgotten Past.”
The building that once housed the snack shack and scorekeeper box was a pile of rubble and splintered wooden planks. The dugouts were completely gone. The bleachers were mostly in the same place, but some had been piled on top of each other along what used to the the third base line. All four foul poles on the two-field lot were in place, looking like lone acacia trees in the Sahara desert.
I remember looking around in shock — forgetting to take photographs in my horror — as the huge, full, yellow moon crept over the Wasatch Range and combined with my Mazda’s headlights to illuminate a small rental Caterpillar bulldozer that stood on a pile of old concrete as if it were a proud cat licking its paws with a slowly dying mouse at its feet.
I felt like crying.
This place was a part of me. It’s where I played my first game as team captain — which of course was a big deal to my 10-year-old self. It’s where I spent game after game belting line drives to the exact same spot on the fence between left and center fields. It’s where I broke my thumb before I could change my swing enough to hit one out of the park.
As all those memories raced and wrestled to sit center stage in my mind’s eye, my stomach tied itself in the same knots they invented 15 years ago when I had to watch from first base as an opponent’s mother rushed from the stands to the writhing body of her son, Major, after he drifted into my line drive that broke his cheek in three places and forced him to sit out half the season.
As I gazed out onto the Americana graveyard, still standing with one foot in my car because I had only halfway exited the driver’s side door in my surprise, the shock gave way to anger.
To say it’s a gut-wrenching sensation to see some of the most-treasured childhood memories sit in a mangled heap is most definitely an understatement.
Imagine the Erda field being bulldozed to pave the way for a new development. Imagine the Grantsville city park being tilled over to accommodate a new grocery store or hospital or something. Imagine the Stockton ball fields being abandoned or the diamonds in Tooele filled with graffiti and broken glass from years of disuse.
I guess I’m supposed to find some solace in the fact that the ballpark I played on has been torn down to make way for something better — and it really will be better, since Habitat for Humanity hung a sign on the fence saying they’ll build houses for the homeless or something.
But why did it have to be my ball park? Why did I have to be the one that had to learn how to let go of an abstract ownership of nothing but sentiment? Why does it have to be me who forcibly removes feelings of grief to make way for selfless it’s-better-this-way-for-the-whole-of-the-community thoughts?
It’s awful and I feel sorry for anyone who has to come to terms with such a melancholy reality.
Tavin Stucki is a sports writer who spent countless hours fielding pop flies and ground balls after batting practice on baseball fields in West Jordan and Midvale, Utah. Send any assurances that everything will be all right to firstname.lastname@example.org.