Sunday, November 9, 2014

Baseball and Heroes

     In Florida, it seems one is never far away from a baseball field. I grew up on Jacana Way in North Palm Beach. Within walking distance of my home was Osborne Park. Baseball fields, cement block dugouts, steel and wood bleachers and a little cement block snack bar together made our field of dreams. When we were around eleven or twelve, we were allowed to walk to the park on late summer evenings to watch our friends play Little League. We’d buy a soda and a hot dog and climb the bleachers to sit on wooden planks. After the hotdog was devoured, we cheered and screamed as our friends took their turns at bat.  There was often the smell of freshly mowed grass and despite the heat of the day, the nights always seemed to cool off just a little in time for the game. We could see flying insects as flashes in the beams from the tall field lights. The crack of the bat hitting the ball would resound off of the apartment buildings to the south.
       At the front of Osborne Park was a curved cement block wall painted white. A flag pole behind it was illuminated at night and the entire crowd assembled for the game would stand, hands over hearts, and sing the national anthem before the umpire yelled, “Play ball!”
     When games weren’t being played, the fields behind the perfectly manicured ball field were excellent spots to kick a ball or throw a Frisbee. Dugouts were great spots for long talks over a Coca cola and moon pie.
        As many times as I walked by that curved cement wall, it never occurred to me why the wall was there and what the bronze plaque on it said. I decided it was time I knew and as my readers know, when I find out something about Palm Beach County history, I love nothing more than to pass it on to you.
       I end up driving through North Palm Beach a lot, usually to meet friends who live in the area. One Saturday morning, I took the time to stop at Osborne Park. The formal baseball field closest to Prosperity Farms Road looked like it hadn’t changed much. The dugouts were still the same ones I had walked past as a child. Built out of concrete cinder blocks, they’re now painted dark green.

       On this visit, though, I walked to the curved wall at the front and read. The little park we loved wasn’t named after some random politician or early founder of the area, but the former Prosperity Park was dedicated to the memory of Lt. Ronald Osborne in 1967. Born in 1941, he was only twenty-five when he left his home on Robin Way for war. He never came back. While serving as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, he died on December 4, 1966 of of wounds suffered in battle after serving only one year.  If you travel to Washington, DC, his name is among those on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Lt. Osborne was buried at Arlington Cemetery.

     We often hurry through our lives and don’t often make time to slow down and look at the bits of history around us. I know all the years I’ve been walking and driving by that monument at the front of Osborne Park, I never slowed down to read it. I’m glad I finally did. As I stood under the flag on a beautiful, clear spring morning, I said a little prayer for the brave, young soldier who probably spent time swinging a bat at this park.


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