Drew#8217;s Field of Dreams is reborn

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 15, 2007

It’s true…..if you build it, they will indeed come.

My hat is off to the hard-working members of the Aulander Ruritan Club and other volunteers for a project that breathed new life into the old Aulander ballpark.

Under picture-perfect skies and ideal temperatures on Saturday afternoon, that ballpark was vibrant and alive once again as hundreds turned out for the re-dedication of the facility.

New fencing, bathrooms, bleachers and concession stand greeted those who attended. Dotted along the outfield fence were advertising signs, a definite “sign” that there are those who care about the future of the ballpark.

Just walking onto the field brought back many memories for this old reporter. I spent part of my youth playing Little League baseball on this exact field. My team, Woodland, was part of the Tri-County League which included the Aulander boys. If my memory serves correct, we never won a game at Aulander.

By the time the mid-1970’s rolled around, I played men’s softball at the Aulander Ballpark. The late Donnie Joyner of Woodland was our coach as we won some, lost some and had a few rained out while wearing the colors of Reid’s Exxon and Dudley’s.

I vividly remember one particular game. I don’t remember the opponent, but it was a tightly contested game. I was on second base when a teammate roped a single to rightfield. Blessed with a bit more speed than I have today, I raced to third where I caught the corner of the bag and lost my balance. Stumbling towards homeplate, it was all I could do to not fall on my face. I belly-flopped across the plate, just beating the tag.

Dutch Overton was the umpire. He called me safe at the plate, but the opposing team made an appeal that I missed third base. The ball was thrown to the third baseman and Dutch called me out. I ran up to old Dutch to protest, asking him if I missed the bag, then why did I lose my balance and make that embarrassing stumble towards the plate? He politely told me I was out because he needed to get the game over with so he could go home and watch the Major League All-Star game which was on that night.

I couldn’t argue with him there….I wanted to get home and watch it as well.

That play drifted through my mind on Saturday as I covered the re-dedication of the ballpark. As a matter of fact, I sat on the ground right behind homeplate. I could close my eyes and see old Dutch, who has since left this world, standing there.

Those gathered at the ballpark on Saturday perhaps had their own stories to tell about Dutch, but this day was dedicated to the memory of the late John Asa Drew Jr.

John Drew was a longtime coach in Aulander. He helped mold and shape the lives, on the field and off, of many young men who had the opportunity to learn from this “baseball man.” He spent a good portion of his life on that field.

Later in life, he continued his love affair with athletics by attending and supporting young people from throughout the local area.

I’d always take the time to stop and talk to “Mr. John.” He was a walking history book when it came to Roanoke-Chowan area athletics, especially the sport of baseball. Even though his teams use to lay an old-fashioned baseball spanking on the Woodland boys back in the day, I always respected John Drew for the passion he had for the game. He was very outspoken, often argumentative, about baseball, but if you listened you could learn a lot about how baseball mimics life.

It was great renewing old acquaintances on Saturday. Some of the faces were easily recognizable, others I struggled with remembering a name.

What was even better was seeing the Drew family together, especially Mrs. Vera (John’s widow). It took one entire set of bleachers to hold this big clan.

They proudly sat through all the speeches and accolades concerning Mr. John while his portrait and old “Aulander green” windbreaker were positioned on a table for all to see.

The most fitting of all moments came when a huge sign was unveiled bearing the words….Welcome to John Asa Drew Jr. Field of Dreams.

That field remains full of dreams for those youngsters who will now etch memories for their future. The only thing missing is John Drew Jr. to help show them the way.