A Monument to all the Kids Who Can’t Play Ball

By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

A few years back Mrs. McD and I visited Bangor where I grew up.  We took pictures of my boyhood home on Warwick Street,  I showed her what had been the Bangor Osteopathic Hospital where I was born, and we bought some donuts just up the street from the hospital at Frank’s Bake Shop, my summertime employer when I was in high school.

And, oh yeah, we ate a lot of lobster.

I had heard that Bangor had a superb kids baseball field so we went to see that.  It is Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium, located on Bangor’s west side.  I had been told it was great, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when we arrived.

Mansfield is a jewel. It seats 1,500, has a complete concession stand, night lights, an electronic scoreboard and an incredibly sophisticated drainage system to cope with the spring snow melt and the inevitable April rains. Everything is a cut above — the dugouts, the stands, everything.

The dimensions are regulation — 90 feet from base to base and 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. Every year the Senior World Series (ages 13-17) is played here and televised on ESPN.  Including standees, it has held as many as 3,000 fans for a single game.

Looking at the gorgeous layout, I suddenly remembered the first time I played baseball in Bangor when I was about eight or nine. The ball field was across town on a large square lot that sat right in the middle of our neighborhood. Except for Mr. Canty’s house, a pointy-roof Hansel-and-Gretel structure which sat at the very edge of right field, it was all ours.

In reality, the field was the pits, mainly because it wasn’t  flat. Home plate in front of Gerry Hayes’s house was the highest point, and centerfield — the corner of Field Street and Princeton Avenue — the lowest. After the snowmelt in the spring, center field was a swamp populated by tadpoles and frogs, but by late May it was always dried out. I don’t recall that we ever minded the field’s topographical deformities. We loved baseball.  And there were better playgrounds in the city we could have gone to, although none the likes of Mansfield.

Mansfield came into being because of the vision of four Bangor men and the generosity of two well known authors.  In 1989, David Mansfield, Neil Waterman, Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King), and Ron St.Pierre coached the Bangor West 11-12 year old all-star team that won the State Championship, and went on to the Regional Tournament in Bristol, CT. From that team, a dream was born that the local boys should have a better facility in which to play. Stephen and Tabitha King were generous enough to build a new $1.2 million stadium that they then donated to the City of Bangor. (A number of causes have benefited because of the Kings, not the least of which is the Bangor Public Library, which, even long before their support, was already known by librarians everywhere  as an outstanding literary mecca.)

The stadium was named after Shawn Trevor Mansfield, David’s son. Shawn never played baseball.  He had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair his whole life.  In 1983 at the age of 14, he passed away. At the entrance of the stadium, there is a plaque dedicating the stadium not only to Shawn but also to all the other boys everywhere who never got a chance to play baseball.

Okay, we had a lousy ball field, but at least we had a place to play, and, unlike Shawn and many other kids, we were able to play. We were the fortunate ones.

As for Stephen King, the stadium was no fluke gift.  He loves baseball passionately, especially his beloved Boston Red Sox. He has written about baseball in the New Yorker and elsewhere.  In 2010 he published Blockade Billy, a novella about William “Blockade Billy” Blakely, a fictional character who in the book briefly plays catcher for the New Jersey Titans in 1957.

“I love old-school baseball, and I also love the way people who’ve spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game,” King says of the book. “I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense.”

It’s safe to say that the man who has spent his adult life scaring the daylights out of us not only loves baseball, he also loves kids.

Coming up on the Age Well Calendar:

 Tuesday, October 29: Senior Summit.  “Care Management — Managing Your Health.” South Shores Church,32712 Crown Valley Parkway, Monarch Beach.  Free Parking, Free Admission, and Complimentary Lunch and Refreshments.  RSVP by October 25 to Casey Gholson, 949-496-9331, ext. 123.

Sunday, November 10: Seniors’ Prom: “The Roaring 20’s” at the Irvine Marriott Hotel Benefiting Meals on Wheels. 5 pm to 9 pm. Entertainment by Johnny Vana’s Big Band Alumni. Tickets $45 in advance $50 at the door.  Tickets available at Age Well sites through Friday, November 1. Transportation available at select sites. For more information, call (949) 855-8033.

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