GLADEVILLE -- Jason Franklin doesn’t remember exactly the conversation that he had with his wife that sparked the construction of a backyard baseball field.
“I was going to be home with the boys all summer,” the Wilson Central assistant principal said.
“We were outside playing ball a lot, and my wife Lorie said something jokingly like, ‘Hey, why don’t you just build a field this summer?’ and I got to thinking about it. I said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ ”
Franklin said Lorie laughed because he’s not necessarily a DIY kind of guy.
“But I had always been around baseball. So I bought some clay and the first thing I built was a pitcher’s mound,” Franklin said.
“And the next thing you know I got some 4x4 posts and built a backstop. And then a neighbor built me some bleachers. I just kept adding something on. The idea was to every year add something new. This year I added new flagpoles.”
It’s been such a labor of love for Franklin that he’s actually built two baseball fields — the original field was at a previous home.
About 10 years ago Franklin had his current home built and a lot of the features of the original field made the move.
“That’s one reason we built here — because of the big backyard,” he said.
While playing with his sons (Baylor, 19, and AJ, 22) back in those days, Franklin gained a reputation.
“I was kind of known as ‘that’ dad in the neighborhood. There were always kids over at the house playing,” he said with a laugh.
“And it wasn’t just baseball. We were always playing something. I still have a set of goalposts out here. We played soccer for a while, football. We have a mini-basketball court. I’m a sports fanatic,” he said with a sigh.
Franklin’s enthusiasm for sports has paid off so far.
Baylor runs cross-country at Ole Miss and AJ was a member of the Vanderbilt baseball team that won the College World Series in June.
AJ, a left-handed pitcher, was drafted in the 17th round by the Kansas City Royals in June and is now playing with the Burlington (NC) Royals, the Appalachian League affiliate of the MLB Royals.
“When me and my wife were dating and we started getting serious I’d tell her, ‘Just give me a left-handed pitcher.’ I was always right handed and I wanted a left-handed pitcher and sure enough she gave me one,” he said with a laugh.
In a phone interview from Burlington N.C. where he’s playing minor league baseball, AJ spoke about his memories of the homemade field.
“I can’t remember how old I was but it’s one of my early memories. There was a lot of people at the house for a birthday party or something and a Wiffle ball game broke out amongst the men on that field. And they’re all playing ball and laughing,” he said.
“I still remember that and it just goes to show you that baseball brings out the kid in everybody.”
AJ said that playing professional baseball has been an awesome experience so far.
“They take care of us really well. And I’m getting paid to play a sport. That’s what we all dream of doing someday. And here I am,” he said.
“And none of it would be happening without my parents and that field.”
Although his kids are grown, Franklin’s field still sees action. Baylor was home from Ole Miss for the summer and a group of his boisterous buddies finished a stack of pizzas and started a game just a few minutes before the sun started to set behind the tree-line.
They didn’t have enough fielders to cover all the bases so they played a version called force-out that made the game more defense friendly.
“That’s so one team doesn’t stay at bat for two hours,” Franklin said while watching the game from the bleachers.
A few minutes into the game a pair of Army helicopters fly directly over the field.
“See. We even have fly-overs,” Franklin said, pointing up.
Baylor is pitching against one of his buddies when they start some friendly smack talk about the rules.
“Are you really questioning me about the rules?” he says from the mound while wearing a Ricky Vaughn jersey from the movie “Major League”.
“Because if you are, you know that I did help make these rules, right?”