Now it can be told. The statute of limitations has run out. Now, I can confess my crime, and my love affair with Derks Field. Before it was Derks Field, it was called the Community Park, built in 1915 in Salt Lake City. It was my special playland growing up and into high school.
My neighborhood buddies and I used to break in to the “old” Park on 13th South and West Temple; and we were repeat offenders. Our greatest fun and “on-the-edge” adventure was finding a weak board in the old green fence of the Park that was all made of wood, and gently pry it open — at first; then kick it hard, slide through the hole, and then run to hide under the main-floor front seat section, and peek through the cracks to watch the ballgame. It was living on the edge and it was fun. Other times we would wait outside the Park for a foul ball to come over the fence, and fight over who would get the ball and run. Bob Chesnes and Dick Stuart were my favorite players.
When the “donkey baseball games” came to play at the Park, they kept the donkeys in our neighborhood in the vast vacant lots around 6th South and 5th West. It was a big treat because we got to pick three big gunny sacks of alfalfa from the vacant fields — and we picked for hours. Then, we gave them to the donkey keepers to let us ride the donkeys up and down the driveway — once. No pay, but what a treat! Donkey baseball was played with ballplayers riding the donkeys (a metaphor somewhere).
Then the tragedy struck. In 1946, my Community Park caught fire and burned to the ground. The flames could be seen for miles, and from our home on 9th South, and my family joined the crowd of spectators. For me, as a kid, I thought it was the end of the world. Where would we go to have fun, to be chased by cops for breaking into the old Park?
Then, from the ashes came the dream park. Baseball and the Park were so popular that it was constructed without missing a baseball season and given the name of Derks Field, named after the late Salt Lake Tribune sports writer, John C. Derks (my favorite writers, more later). Since it was harder to break into Derks, we then spent a lot of time at the old Boys & Girls Club (everything is old now), which was an old, large quonset hut on the east end of Derks.
My South High glory days were playing night football at Derks. It was awesome to play in the cool of a September night with the South High Cub crowd. Of course, I was the star quarterback, or as the sports writers called me, “Johnny pin point passer who lit up the field with touchdown passes.” However, the greatest joy was to have my parents, big sister and brother see me play. They were the first to run on the field to hug me. That was the exclamation point with the love affair I always will have with “The Park.”
Now, my last greatest joy was taking one of my grandsons to see the Bees, eat hot dogs, peanuts, and watch him wait to catch a ball. You may name the Park anything you want, but it will always be the Park with a field of dreams forever in my heart.
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: [email protected]