If you build it…they will come

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 15, 2007

AULANDER – The 1989 hit movie “Field of Dreams” doesn’t hold a candle to a real-life ballpark in Aulander.

On Saturday that old ballpark didn’t need any “movie magic” to come alive once again.

With a huge crowd looking on, the Aulander ballfield was re-dedicated to serving the young people of this Bertie County town as well as children from throughout the Roanoke-Chowan area.

And the name the new-look ballpark now bears is a tribute to the proud past of one Aulander family.

The John Asa Drew Jr. Field of Dreams was formally christened on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. Drew passed away in March of 2006, but not before leaving an everlasting legacy of coaching young men to their greatest potential.

The task of breathing new life into the old ballpark was the brainchild of the Aulander Ruritan Club and other volunteers. After 300-plus manhours, the field stands ready for the next generation of baseball/softball players, young and old.

When it came to choosing a name for the refurbished ballpark, there was no other logical choice but John Drew, a man praised by many on Saturday for giving so much of his time to young men yearning to learn the game of baseball.

“On this field, John was home,” said Aulander Ruritan Club Vice-President Wayne Smith, one of Drew’s former players. “He was like a second father to me, always encouraging me and others to do the right thing. I’m a better person for knowing John Drew.”

He continued, “Thank-you to the Drew family for sharing him with us. He taught us all to be team players, to be winners in life and to never give up. He pushed us to be better ballplayers. From those lessons we were able later in life to become good, productive citizens.”

Smith said the efforts of the Ruritan Club were torn from the script of the Hollywood version of “Field of Dreams.”

“Yes, if you build it, they will come,” he said. “The Ruritan Club wants to thank the citizens of Aulander and Millennium for their generosity to help see this project come true. They dug into their pockets and gave to this effort. During our canvass of the two communities they gave a little over $6,000.”

Hertford County Commissioner and Millennium native Johnnie Ray Farmer said Drew’s spirit reigns supreme today.

“John Drew taught us the game of baseball, but more importantly he taught us the game of life,” Farmer noted of his former baseball coach.

“He laid the foundation for our adult lives and what we learned from him we’ve passed on to others.”

Farmer went on to praise the Aulander Ruritan Club for giving this ballfield back to the community to enjoy.

“We owe them (Ruritans) a debt of gratitude,” he said.

Aulander Mayor Joe Jernigan was among those to offer remarks at Saturday’s dedication ceremony.

“It’s only fitting to name this field for John Drew Jr.,” Jernigan said. “He dedicated his life to coaching young people and now, thanks to the efforts of the Ruritan Club and others, this Field of Dreams is ready for young people to enjoy once again.”

John Perry of Aulander’s VFW Post said, “John Drew loved this ballfield and loved coaching almost as much as he loved Mrs. Vera.”

In response, Vera Drew admitted she played second fiddle when it came to her husband’s admiration for young people.

“He loved children, in his mind and in his heart,” she said. “He thought the world of those kids.”

Mrs. Drew said it was the young people of today that the Ruritan Club had in mind when undertaking the task of renovating the old ballpark.

“We want this new field to help the children of today,” she said. “I pray that John is looking down with approval of what is happening here today.”

The Drew children, part of what looked like a huge family reunion, also spoke fondly of their father and the legacy he left behind.

“My dad had a passion for the game of baseball and had issues with those who didn’t share that passion” Larry Drew said. “This indeed is a Field of Dreams where we are today. Many of my dreams have come true here and now there is a chance for others to have their dreams come true as well.”

Billy Drew remarked not only about the baseball dreams coming true here, but the bonds built between families.

“Many friendships for life were nurtured right here on this very field,” he said.

Also taking part in Saturday’s ceremony was the Hertford County Junior ROTC Color Guard, a United States flag presentation by Woodmen of the World Lodge 328 of Ahoskie and remarks and poetic tribute to John Drew by Ruritan Club member Gleema Demario.

A sign to be erected at the ballpark was unveiled bearing the words, Welcome to the John Asa Drew Jr. Field of Dreams.

Following the dedication, several old-timers enjoyed a slow-pitch softball game. The grand affair ended with approximately 25-to-30 youngsters taking part in a Little League baseball game.

“That’s what the day was all about, seeing the smiles on the faces of those young people, some of whom were playing organized baseball for the very first time,” Larry Drew closed. “Hopefully, we’ll be seeing many more smiles at this Field of Dreams.”