The idea of building a field for his son struck home with Gary Rowles. A ballfield seemed a fitting memorial for a boy who had grown up wearing one uniform or another. Greg had always been an athlete. He had been not only a wrestler at Methacton High but also a football player, and he had played intramural sports year-round at Penn State. Most summer evenings after work, he could be found playing softball or golf. He excelled at most sports, and he loved to play.
After Greg's father approved the idea of creating the field, the church agreed to donate the land in back of the cemetery. As it happened, this plot had once been used as a softball field, we learned. But that long-ago diamond had vanished, and there weren't even telltale signs of the bygone base paths.
The news of the project spread quickly among Greg's friends. Even though some of us were still upset about the circumstances of Greg's death, we realized that our conflicted emotions had little to do with the warmth we still felt for our late friend. Early on the morning of June 8, 75 of us showed up at the church.
So, now we were back in Blue Bell, equipped with shovels, picks and rakes. The job was to cut a diamond in the open field. I had seen the movie Field of Dreams, and I figured that if one guy, even Kevin Costner, could build an entire baseball field by himself, then certainly a group of healthy young men—a group I dubbed The Blue Bell Ballfield Construction Company—could handle a church-league softball diamond with little trouble. All it would take would be to tear out some grass, lay down the bases, put up a backstop. No sweat. We would even have time for a game when we finished.
Well, now that I'm a veteran of ballpark building, I must say that I have no idea how Costner's character, even with that tractor of his, hauled away more than 100 tons of dirt, as we did. And then replaced it with more than 100 tons of specially mixed infield soil, as we did. And I still wonder how he managed to erect the backstop and lights without a little Midwestern neighborly assistance.
When we arrived at the site, we found that the first steps in field construction had already been taken. The backstop poles had been planted and the field dimensions had been mapped out by Ed Slevin Jr., a friend of Greg's who was project manager for a local landscaping firm, with the aid of Gary Rowles and his sons Mike, 19, and Gary Jr., 25. As sketched by Slevin, Greg's grave would lie about 30 yards behind home plate, slightly to the first base side.
Slevin was the guy who organized our motley ground crew into a formidable landscaping machine. Shortly after dawn, he was handing out instructions to his troop of sleepy-eyed laborers. It was a strange scene: several dozen men behind the church cemetery in the early light, each holding either a pick or a shovel. With the arrival of some heavy machinery, the work got under way in earnest. In all, we would employ 30 shovels, 20 rakes, 15 wheelbarrows, a backhoe, a dump truck and a steamroller.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, Greg's friends continued to arrive, walking between the headstones toward the clamor and dust cloud of the work site. They arrived from Blue Bell and from points more distant. I had driven two hours from New Jersey, and others came from New York, Delaware, Maryland and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
As the sun climbed in the morning sky, Boehm's meadow began to resemble a ballfield. By 10:30 a.m. the sod in the base paths had been uprooted, rolled and hauled off to a thicket of trees beyond the leftfield foul line. With the removal of the grass, this part of the pasture actually looked like an infield. Optimism, and false hope, bloomed. Maybe this project wasn't going to be so tough after all. All we had to do was rake that dirt, put down some bases and play ball!
Wrong. The hardest work, we found, was yet to come. We had to remove four inches of topsoil along the base paths, to be replaced with special infield soil. We had to haul the dirt off to the thicket, because we couldn't just leave it in piles around the field. Four inches didn't seem like anything to complain about, until Slevin told us that this meant moving nearly 100 tons of earth.