When I read that Lawrence Memorial Hospital covets Woody Park for additional parking, the news conjured up that iconic line from the Joni Mitchell song.
Would they actually pave paradise to put up a parking lot?
Now I’ll grant most people who have been to Woody Park would have difficulty imagining the smallish four-acre city facility as a recreational Nirvana. Nevertheless, it was paradise if you were a left-handed power hitter.
There was a time back in the 1970s when Woody Park was used — believe it or not — for men’s slow-pitch games even though the second baseman and right fielder could almost shake hands. At the same time, the left-field fence was in a different zip code.
Imagine slow-pitch being played on a football field and you get the picture. Most fly balls to right were home runs, and any ball that somehow eluded the left fielder was an automatic inside-the-park home run because of the downhill slope all the way to Arkansas Street.
Today that extreme left field no longer exists in its entirety. Approximately half of the slope has been filled in and now contains — you guessed it — an adjunct LMH parking lot.
Back in the days when slow-pitch was burgeoning and Lawrence didn’t have enough ball fields, Woody Park was used by necessity. Obviously, it wasn’t an ideal situation for men’s slow-pitch and not just because of its oddball dimensions. Another problem was, ironically, parking. Usually, we had to stash our vehicles in the LMH lot.
Still, we liked to rationalize by joking that if you were injured you didn’t have to worry about calling an ambulance because your teammates could cart you easily to the nearby emergency room.
That happened once, too, when one of our players jammed an ankle while sliding into second base, and we hauled him over to LMH for X-rays. The ankle wasn’t broken, but was sprained so badly he was on crutches for weeks.
I drove by Woody Park the other day and noticed how the left-field area has been truncated for LMH parking and that the chain-link fence in right field has disappeared. Fortunately, it was a low fence because one of the duties of the right fielder, and sometimes center fielder, was to leap the fence to retrieve home run balls that bounced into the adjacent trailer park.
Woody Park was Lincoln Park until 1973 when the city renamed it for Elgin Woody, an energetic little man who helped build the facility at Second and Maine streets in 1936 and sponsored many a youth softball team that played there.
So once again, as has happened so often in Lawrence, we have a tug-of-war between progress and historical preservation. We realize the LMH need, but we also understand green space helps define a city.
Perhaps the city could use the money from the sale of Woody Park to purchase land from the Veterans of Foreign War located not too far down Second Street, erect another diamond and call it New Woody Park. The VFW has quite a bit of green space east of its building and, coincidentally, that land also contains a rudimentary backstop.
You have to hope city fathers can come up with a compromise that will satisfy the need for green space and still accommodate one of the city’s largest employers.