by JOE DELUCA
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM
Fields of Dreams – Wood Island Park
I grew up in Eastie during the ’60s when baseball reigned supreme in Bean Town. Rightfully so, the city was in the grip of pennant fever with the Red Sox, the Impossible Dream Team. In left field was the over achiever and future hall of famer Carl Yastrzemski, and in right was an up and coming local home town hero named Tony Conigliaro.
My friends and I all harbored dreams that some day we too could grace the emerald grass of Fenway Park and one day be the next Yaz, Tony C, or Rico.
We played ball at local park named Wood Island. For those too young to remember, Wood Island served as a recreational haven for the residents of Eastie, offering the chance for solitude, a chance to get off the streets in the heat of the summer. There were woods for hiking, ball fields, playgrounds, and best of all it rested alongside the ocean. It was a great place to go swimming or ‘to take a dip’ as my father would often say on a muggy summer evening.
But in the late ‘60s Wood Island was dying. It was suffocating. The park was being devoured by a hunger to create a larger and bigger airport. Little by little chunks of the park were seized and fenced off. It was sad to watch especially for my father’s generation who had spent their youth there and had grown up to truly love the place.
Gradually the Mass Port Authority would swallow all of the park as well as an adjoining neighborhood, to accommodate the expanding airport. Homes were taken by eminent domain and families were forced to relocate.
By early summer the entire park had been consumed by the Port Authority with the exception of two lone Little League fields. As kids we were oblivious to all the politics. All we knew was that we were losing our ball field, our field of dreams.
As I look back I will always cherish those summer days when life was simple and nothing else seemed to matter except having a glove, a ball, a bat and a field to play on.
For the kids on my street getting to the ball fields meant walking. Like a small army platoon carrying their weapons, twenty-eight and twenty nine ounce Tommy Harper autographed Adirondack bats we marched. Down Lexington Street to Brooks Street. Brooks across Princeton, across Saratoga to Bennington. Down the block to Riley’s Roast Beef. Across Bremen Street to the train tracks and over the bridge to the dirt road. We referred to it as the dirt road because it was just that, dirt – hot, dusty, yellowish dirt.
The road was constructed by Mass Port. It ran parallel to the newly expanded Logan Airport. While the remaining residents fought to save their homes, the dirt road offered Eastie residents their only entrance to their once beloved sanctuary.
My friends and I thought the dirt road was ten miles of the hottest, arid, most uncompromising pieces of earth this side of the Mojavi. Actually it was only about a half of mile. But to eight and ten year legs, on a sweltering July afternoon it was ten miles. As we trudged along, massive construction trucks carrying land fill rumbled passed us generating clouds of the dry yellowish dust forcing us to cover our faces until the dust clouds subsided.
“I hate this road”.
“It’s so long”
“It’s so boring”.
“It takes forever to walk this”.
All our complaining just added to our anguish.
Often times we walked with heads down , bats perched on shoulders. The only noise was the crunching sound of our worn sneakers against the hard sun baked stone coated ground. Every so often, glancing up momentarily to gauge our snail like progress. Followed by complaining. Followed by silence.
Other times the trip down the dirt road inspired some passionate debate – who’s the greatest ball player of all time, was it the Babe, Willie Mays, or the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. Or who’s the toughest kid on the street or what new movie was playing at the Seville Theater.
After what seemed like eternity we arrived at Wood Island or what was left of it. It was a welcome sight after the oppressive heat of the road. Freshly inspired with the end in view, we ran to the ball fields. We hurtled through the waist high grass and weeds, wielding bats and gloves while disrupting yellow butterflies, grasshoppers, and Japanese beetles.
Our ball playing always started with great exuberance and optimism. But the rising afternoon temperature, several missed misplayed balls, and a few arguments, gradually whittled away at our enthusiasm. Our attention span and patience shortened. In between the missed pitches there was some rock throwing or airplane watching or butterfly chasing.
Around this point in time my friend Tom would decide he had had enough. A ball hit in his direction went unplayed. The ragged brown and grass stained baseball skipped past him and into the cover of the over grown outfield grass.
“Get the ball”! His brother Chris would shout.
“I quit”, Tom would respond.
“Get the ball”! Chris would demand.
“I quit, I said”! and Tom would walked away.
Chris would fling his glove at Tom. Tom would whip it back. Chris would chase him across the infield. The two would wrestle and roll around second base, kicking up a cloud of the dry infield dust. Invariably Tom would end up in tears. He would head off by himself into the outfield and then out of sight.
This outburst generally shattered what flow we had achieved during our play. The group would split off. Some played catch while others sat on the bench and concentrated on working up wads of spit which we released on the ground between our dangling legs. We waited for the decision makers to make a decision.
“C’mon lets getoutta here”! they would declare. The boys of summer calling it a day.
Towards the tail end of my last Little League season the Port Authority became lax about maintaining the two ball fields. With several games left to play the outfield grass was as high as a twelve year old’s knee. My father called the Authority and complained. It was soon cut and we finished out the season. I think it was his attempt at adding some dignity to the park during it’s final dying days.
When I played my last game, Wood Island Park was forever closed and became but a memory. Today where the park once existed there probably lies a runway or a terminal where planes taxi back and forth. Truck loads of black hard top now cover what were once our ball fields. The homes long gone. Families relocated. A harsh reminder of the steep cost of progress.
In my heart and mind the fond memories of Wood Island endure. I will never forget those care free summer days when life was simple and nothing else in the world seem to matter except having a glove, a ball, a bat, and a field to play on.
Joe DeLuca, formerly of Everett Street and Lexington Street, now lives in Westford, with his wife and two children. DeLuca attended Sacred Heart School and East Boston High School.
Copyright Joseph DeLuca, All rights reserved.
Originally posted on 12/6/99
Updated to new format on 12/31/21
Updated from archives 8/14/23