Remembering “the big diamond”

By Rick Palsgrove, Groveport Editor

Messenger photos by Rick Palsgrove
The big baseball diamond at Groveport School on Main Street has been there in some form since 1923.

For as long as I can remember people always referred to it as “the big diamond.”

Today it is known as “Diamond A” and it is the largest and oldest of the three baseball fields on the grounds of Groveport Elementary School – the other two being the smaller diamonds “B” and “C,” which were built nearby in the early 1960s on a former football field.

Evidence suggests “the big diamond” has been a fixture in some fashion on the school grounds since 1923 when Groveport School was built on Main Street, making the big diamond about 100 years old.

Like most old ball fields, the big diamond has its history and quirks, which is why such ball fields are thought of fondly.

A Groveport Madison Cruiser varsity baseball jersey from the 1960s worn by players who played on the big baseball diamond at Groveport School.

The “home run” fence that is now in place on the field was only installed in recent years, so for most of the field’s history the outfield was a huge expanse of soft green grass extending out from the hard and fast brown dirt skin of the infield.

“The ground in right field sloped to the far farm fence,” said Shawn Cleary, a former Groveport Madison Cruiser baseball player and coach himself. “If the ball got past the right fielder, it would roll and roll. It was the most unfair extra base hit someone could get.”

In left field, if the ball got by the left fielder it would also roll and roll away on the old nearby asphalt tennis/basketball court (now a parking lot).

Cleary recalled that former mid-1960s Cruiser varsity baseball stars Jim McKee and Jack Manley hit baseballs clear to the football field and tennis courts. McKee went on to play Major League baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleary said Manley was also a fantastic and under-rated ball player.

“A lot of great athletes played on that field,” said Cleary.

According to Cleary, the big diamond at one time also had three pitcher’s mounds.

“There was one at 60 feet 6 inches’ for the big boys, one at about 46 feet for Pony League, and one about 40 feet for Little League,” said Cleary. “The bases were also spaced for the various age groups at 60, 75, and 90 feet.”

In 1954, two Little League teams formed in Groveport – the Colts and the Hornets – and they played on the big diamond as the two nearby smaller baseball fields were not yet built.

A former Cruiser varsity baseball player who played there in the 1960s (and who wishes to remain anonymous) said that if you played high school baseball at that time, you would have played Little League. Coaches involved over the years included Pint Hamler, Ralph Reed, Dick Laut, Orin Babbit, Bob Knode, Huck Cleary, George Thompson, and many more in later years.

“Dads saw a need in the community and filled it,” said the former player of the Little League coaches.

Some fond memories the former varsity player said he has are hitting a home run over the football fence and one on the tennis court. He said when not playing high school baseball, summer baseball was played on the big diamond.

According to Cleary, home plate on the big diamond also used to be quite close to the backstop (it has since been moved forward a bit).

“The umpire was not positioned far from the backstop,” said Cleary. “The backstop had an old, heavy, brown canvas against it and if a ball got past the catcher and hit the brown canvas it could carom off in any direction.”

As a kid I remember watching Cruiser varsity baseball games there from behind home plate at the backstop and having an umpire tell us kids not to hold on to the chain link of the backstop or our fingers could get smashed by an errant baseball.

Foul ball territory is also tight at the big diamond.

“The playground is near the left field foul line and if you were trying to catch a foul ball you would find yourself wrapped around some swings before you knew it,” said Cleary. “Near the right field foul line was the old cinder running track that used to have wooden boards along its edges that fielders could trip over.”

In addition there were light poles near the left and right field foul lines that players had to avoid when chasing baseballs. The poles were not padded.

“The fans were close to the field, too, so you had to watch out for them,” said Cleary.

The light poles that once graced the big diamond were the lights that originally illuminated the former football field located inside the track (where diamonds “B” and “C” are now). When that football field was replaced with the field that is currently behind Middle School Central, some of the lights were simply turned around on their poles to face the big diamond and some were moved into left and center fields.

“There used to be a Tuesday and Thursday night softball league that played on the field in the 1960s,” said Cleary. “They used the lights and sometimes people would pass by there later in the evening and notice that the lights would still be on because someone forgot to turn them off when they left. Those lights weren’t precisely focused or all that bright, but they did the job.”

The field’s lights were removed in the early 2000s.

The big diamond was used for varsity baseball until the high school was moved to South Hamilton Road. However, the big diamond and diamonds “B” and “C” are still in use today for baseball and softball. Groveport Madison High School softball coach Chris Downing and some volunteers upgraded the fields over the past few years.

Fans watching games there today, as well as the players on the field, can get a sense of history as they look about at the surroundings and see Groveport Town Hall off in the distance and Groveport School nearby. The fields themselves have their own history of exciting games and athletes making great plays as well as the lessons wins and losses teach. Here’s hoping the fields are home to great ball games for many years to come.

There are places in our lives we remember that always resonate within us. They could be a theater stage, a meadow, a bend in a creek, a special shady tree, an old school, a candlelit church, a front porch, or a ball field. Though some of these places disappear over time, some do remain, but they all live in our memories.

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