It was Sunday last, a West Virginia sweep of Kansas State in the works when a foul ball was hit down the left field line, the left-fielder crossing into foul territory only to run out of room, the ball bouncing beyond the chain link fence.
Suddenly, the sunshine that had bathed the afternoon was gone. In its place, snow fell softly through the chilled air.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose”
Nat “King” Cole’s voice sang “The Christmas Song,” for it was Christmas again, if only for the moment as the rosy-cheeked kids, most of them wearing a baseball t-shirt and a glove on their hand, took off after the ball, the one who finally held it in his bare hand, looking at it closely, slamming it into his mitt, he wore a smile wider than if he’d received a Christmas bicycle.
All of a sudden you felt something tugging at your heart, the realization that West Virginia was playing its next-to-last weekend in Hawley Field, that on the coming weekend, with Texas as the opponent, we would all say goodbye to Hawley Field.
Fade out “The Christmas Song,” cue Sinatra … the sounds of Joe Raposo’s “There Used to be a Ballpark Right Here” began to fill the mind.
And there used to be a ballpark
Where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game
With a joy I’d never seen.
And the air was such a wonder
From the hot dogs and the beer,
Yes, there used a ballpark, right here.
And so it went, the first verse and you began to feel just what Hawley Field was all about.
“The field was warm and green” and “the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer.”
Certainly no hot dog tastes better than a ballpark hot dog and the beer … well, if you can forget what you paid for it, it has to go with a baseball game.
It appears, in a year or two, Hawley Field will be a parking lot and we will be graced in Morgantown with a new, $21-million baseball field to house the Mountaineers and a minor league team.
It will be state-of-the-art, far more comfortable than those awful bleachers at Hawley Field, far more high tech than Hawley Field.
It will have everything you can ask.
Let us face it, Hawley Field is not Yankee Stadium.
Baseball actually started at West Virginia in 1892 and did not experience a losing season until 1920.
The next year the most legendary of WVU athletes took over as coach, Ira Errett Rodgers, beginning a run where he would coach 22 years, and after Charles Hockenberry coached one season, Steve Harrick would coach 20 years, Dale Ramsburg for 27 years and Greg Van Zant for 18 years.
From 1921 to 2012, WVU had employed but four coaches — save for Hockenberry’s one-year stint.
Harrick led the program to its first NCAA Tournament in 1955, Ramsburg becoming the winningest coach in the school’s history when he took over in 1968, but his introduction to the job was humbling, for WVU was building its new Coliseum on the site of his stadium.
His first three years, WVU’s John Antonik wrote in a wonderful piece on Hawley Field this week, the team played at St. Francis’ High School’s Father Flynn Field, which at least gave them a prayer at victory.
That was temporary, though, and a new field was needed but the athletic department wasn’t in any position to put much money into it. This would not be a $21 million state-of-the-art stadium, more like a chain link fence surrounding something not far removed from a cow pasture.
No dugout, no grandstands.
Sinatra was not singing about Hawley Field with his second verse: