Appeared in Salem Statesman Journal June 11, 2007
In 1986, a South Salem resident built his own Field of Dreams, and every year since, players young and old have come
By CHRIS HAGAN
Just beyond the fence in left field is a pinot noir vineyard. A flower garden can swallow fly balls hit to right field.
Trees line both base lines, with the patriarch, a 400-year-old oak with a tire swing, standing watch over the entire scene in center field.
Across Vitae Springs Road S, horses are grazing on the hills.
Not your normal backyard. And definitely not your normal ballfield.
You can find it all at Ed Bacon’s Field of Dreams. Bacon built the Little League-sized field on his 2-acre property in rural South Salem more than 20 years ago for his two sons.
Throughout the years, he has expanded and improved it. He started with a simple infield but eventually added a backstop, a professional grass infield and a sprinkler system.
Once just a place for his own kids to play, the field has hosted practices for local baseball and softball teams and holds an annual picnic and game for family and friends.
“The scenery is great … out in the country,” said Rachel Hambelton, a South Salem Little League parent. “It’s so relaxing.”
The field was born in 1986, when Bacon decided to turn an overrun grassy area into an infield for his sons, Brian and David.
“[It was] for the boys and the neighborhood kids,” Bacon said. “In those years, there were a fair amount of kids in the neighborhood, and we had a lot of family friends whose boys were the same age. So it got used quite often.”
The boys would play pickup games and “500,” often staying out until the last rays of sun melted away past the third-base line.
As the years went on, Bacon kept tinkering with the field. For a backstop he drove four cast-iron well casings four feet into the ground and connected PVC pipe and netting on the top. Though the well casings are still there, the PVC has been replaced with welded steel pipes.
He cleared the outfield areas and added grass.
Redwood benches sit behind home plate. Bacon snagged them from Salem Hospital — where he used to work as a medical photographer — because the hospital was throwing them out. Joining those is a stone water fountain.
The only thing missing is a pitcher’s mound. Bacon decided to keep the area level so both baseball and softball teams could use the field.
“It’s only elevated in the fact that it slopes uphill,” Bacon said.
That isn’t as much of a problem anymore. Three years ago, he decided to redo the infield and got some help from a professional field company in Portland. They donated equipment, allowing Bacon to laser-grade the steep field, which slopes down from the vineyard beyond left field to first base.
“They brought down a tractor and it was laser-graded according to the land,” Bacon said. “So that was kind of neat, because I certainly didn’t have access to that equipment.”
Special field, special rules
Bacon said he doesn’t know how much money he has spent on the field, although a friend who works with sports fields gave him an estimate.
“He told me if I started the field from scratch, I would put something like $50,000 into doing it,” Bacon said.
The field requires about 20 hours of maintenance per week for watering, mowing and keeping up the infield.
“He enjoys it, and it keeps him out of trouble,” Bacon’s wife, Marilyn, said. “It’s a labor of love.”
Despite the professional feel to much of the field, there are some quirks, including the tire swing hanging from the oak tree in center and the Bacon family home in deep right.
Marilyn has a flower garden in short right field, which makes it tough to play flyballs.
“If someone is a lefty — and if they knock one over into right field it’s a foul ball because it’s unplayable,” Bacon said. “No one has a problem with that.”
The field’s slope also means that players are running uphill from first to second base.
“Once you make it around second base you’re home free,” Marilyn said.
A small oak tree is in the first base coach’s box. Its branches encroach on the field and often interfere with play.
“It’s kind of hard for me if I’m playing first base. They can just hit the tree and (the ball) can come back and hit my head,” said Ben Richardson, 10, of the South Salem Little League Mariners.
But the most famous ground rule is one only in play for the adult softball games.
“If you knock over the pitcher’s beer, it’s an automatic out,” Bacon said. “And we’ve had pitches hit so hard and smacked the pitcher’s beer can so it just explodes.
“And everybody knows that’s the rule,” he said. “That’s almost anti-religious to knock over somebody’s beer.”
The annual picnic has become a major event for the Bacon family, drawing more than 100 guests. The game is named in honor of Brian Bacon, who died in a motorcycle accident five years ago. Brian’s friends still travel from as far away as Idaho, Nevada and Virginia to participate.
“When Brian was killed, his friends probably made the difference between us making it and not making it,” Ed Bacon said. “Words cannot describe how devastating that was and his friends made the difference. And they continue to do it, and they continue to pay respects to Brian by coming.”
‘A lot of life’
The field has gotten a lot of use this year from the South Salem Mariners. The team was formed late in the season and because of a lack of fields in the area was last on the list for practice times at Judson Middle School.
“We couldn’t get any field time at the school … maybe one day a week,” said Hambelton, whose sons Michael and Matthew play for the team and husband Mike coaches. “We called Ed, who’s a friend of ours, and he said ‘absolutely.’ ”
The team has held every practice except one on the field. The players enjoy using the field, though it took some getting used to.
“I thought it was kind of weird because I had never seen a field like this before,” Mariner Franklin Blalock, 9, said.
“It’s different because it’s got a lot of life and other fields just have a fence and no trees and plants like this field does,” Jacob Rangel, 11, said. “Plant life, animal life. It’s like a little cool place to hang out.”
With all the games and practices played at the field in its 21 years, Bacon said he has never experienced a broken window at the house.
Despite all the hours it takes to maintain the field, Bacon doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“There’s too much invested here, both in terms of time and money,” he said.
And that’s fine with Mike Hambelton.
“As long as I’m coaching, I’ll come practice out here,” he said. “As long as he keeps the field here, we’ll come out.”
About the field
Bases: 55 feet apart
Features: Grass infield, stone drinking fountain, redwood benches, tree-lined base paths, garden in right field, laser-graded surface.
OBSTACLES: Pinot noir vineyard in left, oak tree with tire swing in center, wife Marilyn’s flower garden in right, tree branches hanging over first base.
Distance to oak tree in center field: 270 feet