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Field of Dreams: A Loss of Park Space for Some in Inglewood

darby-park-inglewood

Baseball season is over, and I don't just mean for the Rangers and Cardinals in 2011. For me, it's over for good.

The realization of the end came slowly. I wanted to believe my season was just temporarily suspended, on hiatus until the construction crew that's been remaking my beloved field for the last several months packs up its equipment and leaves. I've seen this before--the gates are shut for gardeners and sweepers and inspectors, then opened after an hour or two, maybe a morning. Not this time.

My field is--was--a small baseball park in Darby Park in the middle of Inglewood.

Bordered by a chain link fence, it was nice but pretty bare bones, with weathered bleachers, a dugout, a modest pitcher's mound. Boys played baseball and softball there (I never saw any girls) in the spring and summer. But in the mornings when no one was playing or practicing I often took my three dogs to the field for an outing. It was the kind of space that existed nowhere else in the city, enclosed but big enough so that my dogs could run around the perimeter and feel like they were out in the open. It was their own private dog park and a public place where I could be with them without having to restrain them, watch them or worry in any way; even when they charged the fence and barked at distractions on the other side.

The best part about the field is that it was a gift; I wasn't really supposed to be in there, but the park staff looked the other way until about noon or so. The morning was a magic window that I regularly took advantage of, me and lots of other dog owners and other people who were eager to experience the field's unique combination of openness and solitude. Sometimes I had to wait my turn as folks did their soccer practice or fitness routine. I couldn't help but feel a little resentful--the baseball field was mine, and my dogs'. Everybody else was a guest.

Nobody is now. The city is plowing it up and remaking it into a real Little League regulation field, complete with a scoreboard and snack bar. This is a good thing, I know, one of those improvements residents in small cities seize on in bad times like these to feel good about their civic future, and about the future of their youth. Yet when I visit Darby now, which isn't often, I can't help but walk around the freshly furrowed earth (the fence is gone) with my dogs and feel terrible nostalgia for what I never officially had. My season of a secret place is over.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user waltarrrrr. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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