Few would argue that Lawrence is no longer a cozy little university town. In the three-plus decades I've lived here the population has nearly doubled. Rush hour traffic on Sixth, 23rd and Iowa streets can be overwhelming.
With the unbridled growth has evolved a loss of the sense of community. Some would go so far as to say Lawrence hasn't been the same since Free State High opened in 1997 and turned 15th Street into a Mason-Dixon line.
Still, I felt the other night that Lawrence really hasn't lost its sense of community after all. The feeling hit me while I was covering the Lawrence Raiders games against Manhattan in the Legion Zone baseball tournament.
Thirty years ago, Lawrence's Legion baseball team was known as the Hawks. Most of the Hawks were Lawrence High products, although from time to time the Hawks would have a player from Tonganoxie, Eudora or another area town.
In those days, the Hawks played at Municipal Field in Hobbs Park. Hot summer nights would find friends and relatives of the players sitting in the concrete stands behind home plate.
Today Lawrence has two Legion teams and they contain a mixture of players from both of the city's high schools as well as a couple of area players. One of the Raiders' best players, for instance, is pitcher-first baseman Eric Brown of Baldwin. Heck, even the coach, Carl Brooks, is from Baldwin.
These days, the Raiders and Outlaws play at Free State High's baseball diamond because it is generally regarded as the best facility in the city at least for the players. For the fans, Free State Field is medieval. It has no rest rooms, no concession stand and two small sets of aluminum bleachers.
When the Legion played at Municipal Field now a slow-pitch facility fans would bring their lawn chairs and place them in the concrete grandstand. At Free State, the fans bring lawn chairs and place them near the sidewalk that forms a boomerang-shaped strip behind and above the playing area.
Most of the people on hand the other night were, not surprisingly, parents and relatives. I saw and visited with, for instance, Mike and Nan Scott, parents of Raiders' center fielder Rob Scott. They're both Kansas State grads and die-hard KSU boosters, but they sure as heck weren't there to watch Manhattan play.
Dale Peterson isn't a K-State fan. I've known Dale ever since he was a student trainer for the Kansas University football team back in the '80s. Dale's son Eric is the Raiders' No. 1 pitcher. Dale usually sits in the press box and works the scoreboard.
Walt Houk, his wife Jan and son Kent were there. The Houks are all involved with Travellers Inc., a local travel agency, but the elder Houk's first love has always been baseball. For several years, Houk managed the Maupintour Travellers semi-pro baseball team.
It was great to see Tony Ice on hand, too. Ice is a Lawrence icon, a man who coached Legion baseball for so many years they named Ice Field in Holcom Complex after him and his late brother Al. Ice has to wear glasses with magnifying lenses in order to see a game, but otherwise he looked hale and hearty.
Among the others on hand, either because they're baseball fans or coaches, were Jeff Dolezal, Art Lingle, Dirk Wedd and David Petry.
Also sitting in the bleachers were Mark Schoneweis and his wife Diana, Lawrence residents for nearly two decades. They had no friends or relatives playing for the Raiders, but Mark had grown up in Manhattan and couldn't resist the call of the nostalgia siren.
Mark Schoneweis was openly rooting for the Manhattan team, but you and I both know his allegiance will change when his young children attend Free State High.
Anyway, it seems to me that if you compare Legion baseball in Lawrence today at least from a sociological standpoint to what it was 30 years ago, the difference is infinitesimal.