Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Once was an easier way to build a ballfield

The fuss over how to get ballfields for North River American Little League is never ending.
You've got the City of Palmetto.
You've got the Manatee County Commission.
You've got the lawyers.
Aaah, yes.
If only things were as uncomplicated as they were when folks on Anna Maria Island rallied to build their Little League field out of bricks, concrete, steel and community teamwork.
It was back in the 1950s and the field was adjacent to AMI's original school, now the Anna Maria Island Community Center.
With the blessing of J. Hartley Blackburn, then superintendent of schools, people got to work building a ballpark for the kids.
According to the Herald archives of the late Tony Conboy, numerous AMI families pitched in and made a regular party of the fundraising and heavy lifting to bring the project to completion.
The Van Ostenbridges and Hutchinsons were but a few of them.
Ben Scanio Sr. contributed $5,000 -- a fortune back in those days -- and his "scrounging" ability to boot.
He managed to get hold of the steel from the Ringling Brothers Circus. The railings were fashioned out of the bars from lion cages. The towering poles that formed the backstop were from the circus big top.
Scanio loved telling folks how those poles, beams and bars had been all around the world before settling in Anna Maria.
Among those who also worked on the ballfield were major leaguers Warren Spahn and Fred Hutchinson on the heavy equipment.
The fruit of everyone's labor was Scanio-Hutchinson Field.
It was a memorial to Ben's son and namesake, who died in an auto accident, and to Hutchinson, the former Detroit Tiger pitcher and Cincinnati Reds manager who died in 1964 at the age of 45 from lung cancer.
The ballfield, modernized since then, is still there, a testament to how things got done in much simpler times.

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