OLD ORCHARD BEACH — It was a blue-sky Sunday, a perfect day for baseball. Or so Tom LaChance thought.

He listened to the sounds of the game: the pop of balls hitting leather, the crack of wooden bats hitting balls. The called balls and strikes of the home plate umpire. He caught the pungent scent of sausages on the outdoor grill next to the concession stands.

His eyes flicked from one side of The Ballpark to the other. Fewer than 200 fans were in the grandstands, about the size of Saturday night’s crowd for the first of this two-game Can-Am exhibition series between the Brockton Rox and the Quebec Capitales. The place could have sat thousands.

“Sunday, I was a little down in the dumps,” said LaChance. “I was hoping for a crowd. Maybe 600, maybe 800.”

He was hoping to wow Miles Wolff, the Can-Am League commissioner, with paying customers and reinforce the notion that The Ballpark could again be home to a professional team.

LaChance was hoping Saturday night’s fans would return to their neighborhoods and tell their friends. Word of mouth is always free and more persuasive. Psssst, pro baseball is back at The Ballpark. Pass it on.

“We just didn’t have any money to advertise or market this weekend,” said LaChance. “What money we have is going to buy things like trim.”

LaChance is the local high school baseball coach who has become the de facto spokesman for the large group of community volunteers who devoted the last two years to breathing life into The Ballpark. At this point no one should be disappointed if 10 fans or 1,000 fans walked through the gates.

Wolff, who also owns the Capitales and brought the fabled Durham Bulls back to life in 1980, was far from disappointed. “I was shocked.

I saw The Ballpark in the mid-1980s. I had seen the pictures of trees growing in the infield. When you lose a ballpark it’s a shame.”

Then Wolff saw the second transformation and had to put aside his disbelief.

Chris Carminucci, president and field manager of the Rox – don’t you love the multi-tasking so pervasive at this level – was suprised. “From a playing standpoint the field was pro-scale and great. The locker rooms were good. The front-office space, the concessions were good. The feeling from the fans who were there was tremendous.

“I don’t think you can tell (about fan support) when only 8,000 or 10,000 people are in town. I want to come back in June, July or August when the tourists are there. Maybe there aren’t enough for a Can-Am team. Maybe a college wooden-bat team would work.”

Last Friday, Old Orchard Beach played Sacopee Valley in a high school game that did oooh and awww those there. Cell phone cameras seemed to be everywhere. Tonight, Traip Academy and Greely will square off.

The weekend two-game series was a kick-the-tires, look-under-the-hood test-drive by the Can-Am League. What they saw, they liked.

What they heard they liked. The Ballpark community gets new members every day, it seems. Saturday night, LaChance heard an offer from an electrician to work on the light towers. Someone else wants to hydro-seed a dirt embankment beyond the home bullpen.

The restrooms were a little dated but spotless. For $5 I got a hot dog and hamburger, and a big smile encouraging me to enjoy the food. LaChance says no young fan left without a souvenir, be it a foul ball or broken bat or something else. It’s a place where fans might be won over, one heart at a time.

Sunday, someone noticed the smile gone from LaChance’s face and told him not to be so down. No one came at first, he was reminded, to Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams.” Like the movie, somebody will look in the distance to see the trail of car headlights driving down the access road to The Ballpark and feel the warmth of success.

“So many people have worked so hard to bring The Ballpark back,” said LaChance. “It’s got to be used.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]


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