Decade of Dreams

Published 12:12 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bertie Ledger-Advance


AULANDER – For a moment they stood – glimpsing back at the past, but casting an eye to the future.

That day in October 2007, hundreds gathered to formally dedicate the John Asa Drew Field of Dreams in Aulander. A decade later, hundreds have played baseball and softball, coached and watched as the youth of Aulander have grown.

“At times after the games are over, and all the people have gone, I stand on the field and talk to my dad,” said Billy Drew, who leads the Aulander Youth League that calls the field home. “I feel he would be pleased with what we have done, but he would remind me that the job is not yet finished.”

John Asa Drew passed away in March 2006, and left a legacy of coaching young men to their greatest potential in baseball and softball.

Following the elder Drew’s death, the Aulander Ruritan Club and volunteers throughout the town and its surrounding area came together to begin the process of renovating the baseball field at the old Aulander High School.

Aulander Mayor Larry Drew – like Billy, the son of John Drew – said it took a lot of work and volunteer assistance to make the dream of seeing the field’s return use a reality.

Evan Wise, a player for the Millennium Civic Organization, slides safely across the plate during the Opening Day round of games this past summer at the John Asa Drew Field of Dreams in Aulander. | Bertie Ledger-Advance Photo by Jim Green

“I can’t stress enough the importance of the fact the field was renovated by volunteers,” Larry Drew said. “People donated time, talent and efforts to make it happen.”

The citizens of Aulander, Millennium and the surrounding communities donated over $6,000 in support of the project. In fact, Larry Drew said when funds were being raised they went door-to-door.

“I remember one gentleman who had $2 in his wallet and that’s all. He gave me both of them for the field,” he said.

Following those efforts, it came time to dedicate the field and it rightly honored John Drew’s efforts and work with the young people of Aulander.

“On Oct. 13, 2007, the day the town of Aulander dedicated the field as the John Asa Drew Jr. Field of Dreams, I stood with pride that my father was remembered for all he had done for the youth of our area,” Billy Drew said. “As different people spoke of their memories, tears formed and trickled down my face.

“I had memories so many never had,” he added. “I was the catcher on eight of the teams my father coached, and got to hear a lot of comments and ideas he would speak quietly during my practices. I learned what he was thinking and how he wanted things done.”

During the dedication, Wayne Smith spoke about John Drew’s accomplishments.

“On this field, John was home,” Smith said a decade ago. “He was like a father to me, always encouraging me and others to do the right thing. I’m a better person for knowing John Drew.”

Johnnie Ray Farmer added back then, “John Drew taught us the game of baseball, but more importantly he taught us the game of life. He laid the foundation for our adult lives, and what we learned from him we’ve passed on to others.”

Vera Drew, John’s wife who passed away in February of last year, also spoke at the dedication.

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

Mrs. Drew said then 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.”

Once the field was in playing shape and dedicated, the Aulander Youth League was initiated to make use of the field.

“Aulander had not had youth baseball in 30 years when it was decided to try,” Billy Drew said. “We were hoping to have enough youth to form at least four teams. As the word spread, we were surprised to have 144 boys and girls from ages five to 18.

“I feel the Youth League has surprised a lot of people,” he added. “The field has given children that never would have had the chance to play organized ball their chance to learn the game, make new friends and make memories.”

While the field still stands and is used regularly, changes have been made over the years including the addition of an announcer’s booth, batting cage, additional bleachers and a storage building and field maintenance equipment.

The town of Aulander is also in the process of replacing all the poles, wiring and lights at the field.

Billy Drew said he also hopes to see the addition of a smaller field, which would keep the league from turning children away. He said there was always room for improvement to the fences and field itself, as well as a need for a new concession stand and restrooms.

“I would love to see more girls and older boys participate,” he added.

Larry Drew said he enjoyed the work on the fields and with the youth league, but credited much of the success to his brother and sister-in-law.

“Billy and Kathy have kept the league going, and the youth playing baseball and softball on that field, against all odds,” Larry Drew said. “I am so proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.”

Billy Drew admitted he and his wife have not missed a game in the past 10 years at that field.

“We love the youth. We love watching them learn and grow,” he said. “We had children play that now have their own children playing here.

“I am getting older and a little slower, but I made a promise to the kids that as long as they will come to play, I will be here to meet them,” Billy continued. “It is a promise I plan to keep, God willing.”

And, as long as the Drews and other members of the Aulander Youth League continue using the field, they honor the memory of the man it was dedicated to a decade ago.

“I can envision my dad leaning against a post in one of the dugouts – his hat just a little crooked – rooting on the kids on the field,” Larry Drew said. “He would truly love it.”

Thanks to the had work of so many – from John Drew himself to his children and the children he loved and coached – the John Asa Drew Field of Dreams will continue to touch lives in Bertie County.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story.)