Archive for Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Woody quirky paradise

July 21, 2009


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.


rtwngr 8 years, 11 months ago

I always remembered it as Lincoln Park and not Woody Park. I never played any games there but it was used by our coach for practices when I played in the old "South Park" league. Good times. Great memories.

Jim Williamson 8 years, 11 months ago

Chuck, your articles usually make me want to shove knitting needles in my eyes, but I enjoyed this one. Brought back some good memories. I'm with you: I hope LMH can leave the park alone.

Joe Hyde 8 years, 11 months ago

The first ballgame I ever played on Lincoln/Woody Park's diamond was in 1965. Following a neighborhood pickup baseball game a buddy invited me to fill in for a softball team that was short one player.

Softball? All I'd ever played until then was baseball -- or "hardball" as we called it. So I went to the game at Lincoln Park expecting to play the kind of "softball" I played in elementary school. You know, where girls got to play, too? Where the pitches came over the plate slow and easy?

To my shock, the game I found myself playing in was fast-pitch softball. The pitches were sent in by grown men with prejudicial attitude. No way of knowing how fast those pitches moved, but the nearness of the pitching rubber made it seem like the balls were coming past you at light speed. I never put my bat on a pitch all night long, and after the game ended I was not asked to come back. (Fine by me; the whole experience scared hell out of me.)

Oh, I forgot to mention -- the players in fast-pitch softball wore shoes outfitted with steel spikes, and they weren't afraid to elevate those spikes when sliding into bases. Those boys at Lincoln Park were way too tough for me!

Clickker 8 years, 11 months ago

"To my shock, the game I found myself playing in was fast-pitch softball. The pitches were sent in by grown men with prejudicial attitude"

Sounds like The King and his Court. Eddie Fingers was his name. They sued to barnstorm thru Lawrence

thebigspoon 8 years, 11 months ago

The King and his Court was Eddie Feigner...

Commenting has been disabled for this item.