LOCKPORT – George Davis spent the better part of a decade building the field before his dreams would come true.
Like Kevin Costner’s character in the film “Field of Dreams,” Davis was haunted by America’s pastime. He didn’t hear the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson whispering to him from a cornfield, but rather the whispers of regret lingering in the back of his mind. Shift work at General Motors caused Davis to miss out on his son Harley’s Little League days.
Davis, now 63 and retired, used to drive past a small ballpark in Gasport with his future wife, Maggie, when they were teenagers and talk about taking their son there to play someday. As he watched the diamond deteriorate over the years, Davis would daydream on his drives about building a diamond of his own on the land adjacent to the Wisterman Road house he built in 1974.
Laid off for a month in 1999, Davis was talked into taking the red clay dirt that a co-worker had dug out to build a pond. Borrowing a truck that used more oil than gas, Davis hauled more than 50 loads over to his property. He mowed down the weeds, spread the dirt, stenciled a diamond to Little League dimensions with kite string and planted new grass.
When wind blew grass seed into the basepaths, Davis spent hours pushing a broom along the dirt, drawing stares from passing cars. Grass grew in sparingly at first. “Then it was like magic overnight,” Davis recalls while flipping through old photographs. “I went to bed and it was dirt, and I woke up and it was a ball diamond.”
Over the next few summers, Davis built a backstop, outfield fence foul poles, and an old-fashioned manual scoreboard patterned after the vintage one from the Green Monster at Boston’s Fenway Park. Atop the scoreboard, Davis hung a handmade sign, naming his “diamond in the rough,” as neighbors called it, Harley Field.
After its unveiling, Harley Field hosted no games for eight years, save for an occasional family reunion. Davis kept maintaining the field and thinking of ways to augment it.
“I thought he was crazy,” Maggie Davis remembers, “like everybody else did.” Friends would flatter Davis by telling him how nice the field looked, then break his heart when they asked, “But why do you do it when nobody uses it?”
“ ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” says Harley Davis, now 24. “That was the joke around the whole neighborhood.”
Mother Nature organized the first sanctioned game at Harley Field in 2010, washing out weeks’ worth of Lockport Little League games and forcing a scheduling scramble. At first, the league asked if it could use Davis’ field for T-ball games. When more rain came and it became clear that Harley Field was perfectly pitched above superior drainage, the league moved several more games over.
“I remember before the first game, I was over by third base fine-tuning the dirt and they held back all the players behind the fence, then sent them all loose at the same time,” Davis says, his voice cracking with emotion.
“You’re waiting all these years for them to get here, and they finally showed up. When I was waiting for that grass to grow, now I’m getting the satisfaction for that.”
These days, Davis beams with pride as children come from all over the area to play at Harley Field. Lockport Little League doesn’t use the field anymore, but Davis will host more than two dozen Lockport An-Jo and travel league games this summer, as well as several practices.
The more games scheduled, the more Davis is driven to build up the ballpark. He has added benches on the baselines, bleachers in the outfield, a gravel warning track and a parking lot. The Lockport Little League donated a larger outfield fence, which Davis decorated with handmade pennants and vintage advertisements for Coca-Cola, Bazooka Joe gum and the iconic Perry’s ice cream cone sign that Davis’ father designed in 1962.
A 13-year-old neighbor operates the scoreboard during games, taking direction from Davis over a walkie-talkie, while Harley and another neighbor work the concession stand.
“This place is fantastic,” says Todd Fragale, president of Lockport An-Jo. “We made the schedule so every kid gets to play here once. It’s a special treat for the boys.”
Parents and coaches are equally enamored. “It makes you want to be out there playing, absolutely,” Fragale says. “The kids surely are excited to be here, but I’m not sure if they realize how lucky they are to have a field like this. It’s impeccable.”
Still, Davis gets the biggest thrill. He mows the grass, lines the diamond and hammers in the bases before each game. If he learns the team names beforehand, he paints special signs for the scoreboard. Through wireless speakers atop the backstop connected to the CD player in his home, Davis plays the national anthem before each game, and between innings, he plays old radio commercials and music that some of his younger visitors don’t fully appreciate.
“Is this country music?” one youngster on the bench asks while John Fogerty bellows the lyrics to “Centerfield.”
“I hate country,” his teammate replies.
Davis doesn’t charge for use of Harley Field. He accepts donations and makes a few dollars on concessions, but that doesn’t even cover the increased property taxes he pays for the field. Davis hopes he can secure larger donations in the future to cover the cost and the increased tax burden of building dugouts and installing stadium lights.
“I still have bigger dreams,” he says.
The lack of dugouts didn’t bother 8-year-old An-Jo player Max Stern, who ran up to Davis after a recent game and told him, “This is the best field I have ever seen.”
Davis also loves to tell the story of a Lockport Little Leaguer who visited Fenway a few years back, saw the manual scoreboard and excitedly told his parents, “That’s just like the one at Harley Field.”
“That’s the coolest thing,” Davis says.
“When you get a little 8-year-old telling you your field is awesome, that means a lot. That’s what keeps me motivated, keeps me going. I can’t wait to get up the next morning to do something different to make the field better.”