What's in a Park?
Sixty years of memories at Vets
by Lewis H. Clark
Published in September, 2021
My first memories of Vets Park are from the 1960s. It has a great sledding hill, and in elementary school my siblings and friends from the Lakewood subdivision spent many hours gliding gleefully down it then trudging back up. We would make as many runs as we could before our smiling, wind-whipped cheeks froze on our faces and we were forced to head home.
In the warm months, my friends and I would spend hours exploring the ravine on the hill behind first base on Diamond #1. Among the trees, we felt like we had stepped into another world, where noise disappeared, and we could play in the rocks that lined a gentle rivulet that streamed down the hill.
My summer memories are also rich with images of Ann Arbor Recreation Department baseball. The most vivid is of a night game on Diamond #4, where I pitched a shutout and hit a double in the last inning to win the game. I still remember the joy in my teammates' faces as we huddled together to celebrate, while our coaches hustled to gather up the bats and balls before the park staff shut off the lights.
In junior high, my friends and I would spend at least one or two evenings a week watching the men's fast-pitch softball games. I can still remember the infield chatter for Bud Corwin ("Hummm, Bud") as he readied his next pitch and the spark provided by John Boyer as he used his lightning-fast speed on the basepaths to generate runs for his team.
Around this time the indoor skating rink was added, and I can remember going there in the winter with boys and girls from our 'neighborhood--a group of friends trying something new outside the confines of our usual haunts. It was one of my first opportunities to show my bravado to the fairer sex, eventually leading me to drum up the courage to take a girl by the hand
and skate together. There was no better moment than turning my blushing face to my partner and seeing a smiling face gazing back at me.
In high school, I played summer baseball and pitched for Pioneer, typically on Diamond #5, right up against Dexter Rd. While there were a few defeats, there were mostly victories, highlighted by a one-hit shutout I pitched against Huron. During a fifteen-game winning streak our coach, Pete Palmer, superstitiously refused to wash his uniform for fear of upsetting the baseball gods. I can still see him with his "game face" leaning against the backstop while he surveyed the action on the diamond, occasionally barking out orders to reposition our defense.
For twenty years or so, there was a memorial to my mother in the park. When she passed away in 1984, many of her friends contributed to placing a metal plaque on a large granite stone in the southwest corner, along with an infusion of plants and flowers. It was removed sometime in the mid-2000s, perhaps during a renovation of the corner.
Parenthood created new warm memories, including family trips to the swimming pool for our toddlers to frolic in the water-jet fountain and picnic in the grassy areas surrounding the walkways. We also had the kids participate on the Vets Park Swim Team--the source of red faces, puckered lips, and chill bumps in the early morning air.
Later, I coached my son's recreation baseball team, watching from the sidelines as he, too, came to love the game. I can still see his face rounding second base at Diamond #2 and heading towards me as I crouched in the third base coach's box and waved him home for a grand slam that won the game. With streams of sweat running down his cheeks, his face broke into an ear-to-ear smile.
What's in a park? The creation of smiling faces and a lifetime of memories.
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