Amesbury resident uses website, backyard Ebbets Field replica to celebrate baseball’s many joys
Yes, Tom Hannon’s favorite movie is “Field of Dreams.’’ In the 1989 movie, Kevin Costner plays a baseball fan perplexed by the voices of baseball legends whispering, “If you build it, he will come.’’ When he plows his cornfield under to construct a baseball field, his neighbors think he is nuts.
Luckily, when Hannon started removing truckloads of soil to create a one-quarter-scale replica of Ebbets Field, the long-gone Brooklyn Dodgers’ home, in his Amesbury front yard four years ago, his neighbors kept any doubts to themselves.
His family, however, did not. As Hannon toiled like a man possessed to build Little Ebbets Field, complete with batter’s box, scoreboard, and a precisely measured layout (for Wiffle ball games), some raised eyebrows.
“When I first saw him building it, I thought he was insane,’’ said Hannon’s 17-year-old son, Thomas. Daughter Kelli Fowle wasn’t as surprised. After all, her dad built a Fenway Park replica at their previous house. “My whole life we have been huge baseball fans,’’ she said.
With professional baseball’s spring training well underway, Hannon and his Little Ebbets Field are gearing up for the coming season as well. His devotion to baseball is legendary, so Hannon’s recent efforts at building an online baseball community (at www.thebaseballpage.com) is a logical step. Driven to connect fans, from hard core to novice, Hannon sees baseball as both culture and sport.
The Baseball Page website includes analysis, history, numbers, photos, individual memories, and current baseball updates, as well as plain old fun. Hannon wants fans to enjoy reading others’ stories, adding their own tales, watching videos, and debating the latest trades.
“I really think the world is missing some of this stuff right now,’’ said Hannon. “They are missing fun. The Baseball Page is fun.’’
His users agree. Some surf the site for past glories, checking the “This Day in Baseball History’’ column or the statistics pages for players. Others catch up on the latest news or read the perspectives posted on the community blogs. It draws a worldwide audience.
“I don’t spend lots of time visiting websites, but I always make the time to visit the Baseball Page,’’ said a New York-based blogger, Larry Cicchiello, who peruses current happenings and adds his own posts. He appreciates the site’s wide perspective, which, he said, adds in-depth coverage.
“I love everything about the game,’’ Cicchiello said. “I will talk hitting, pitching, fielding, for hours on end. It is what I love to do. No matter what type of interest you have in baseball, there is something there for you.’’
Phil Naessens, who has a sports podcast linked to the Baseball Page, uses the site for research from his home base in Corfu, Greece.
“I would say that roughly 70 percent of the reading I do prior to interviewing baseball-related guests on my sports podcast comes from the Baseball Page,’’ said Naessens. “Some sites have only statistics, while other sites might be blog-oriented. Others are podcast-oriented while some are history-oriented. The Baseball Page has all of that and more in one location.’’
Someone with only a passing interest in baseball, Hannon said, is just as welcome as the most devoted fan. He sees the site as a virtual front porch where anyone can spend hours extolling the latest no-hitter, lamenting errors, or taking a trip down memory lane.
At 45, Hannon knows his best baseball-playing days are behind him. But every now and then, when he hustles to shortstop and brings his glove close to his face, the scent from the worn leather reminds him of glorious teenage days when his body could keep up with his spirit.
He also remembers how baseball was an emotional connection with his late father, and how it continues to foster friendly competition and family tradition with his own children.
And baseball has pulled him through his own personal struggles. Building Little Ebbets Field was his salvation as he reeled from a divorce, Hannon said.
The field “was my midlife crisis,’’ he quipped. “I was looking for something to bury myself in.’’ With a new love in his life, fiancee Linda Whitney, Hannon has mellowed and is enjoying what he created.
He relishes the crowds of players and spectators who arrive every year for seemingly endless Wiffle Ball tournaments, Hannon said, and takes that laid-back attitude to the Baseball Page as well, connecting people who simply love baseball.
“We all watch the same game, and we all come away with something different,’’ he said.
He recalled watching Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series with his father, who was losing his battle with cancer. While the game, famous for pitcher Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, was cause for great celebration among Sox fans, Hannon’s memories are bittersweet. It was the last one he ever watched with his dad.
“No game will ever mean what that game meant,’’ said Hannon, describing the father and son’s elation in the sterile hospital atmosphere. “It was awesome,’’ he said. “It was a great memory. I think that is what is different. In basketball or football, fans don’t remember it like that.’’
At home, he welcomes people to Little Ebbets Field. Neighbor Cathy Richard did not expect a ballpark when the Hannons moved in, but has no problem with it. Her husband even did the excavation work.
“It didn’t bother us,’’ she said. Hannon “did a really nice job with it.’’ And when the Richard family had a cookout, they took Hannon up on his offer to use the field.
Hannon knows magic can happen with a ball, a bat, and the mystical camaraderie of players on a field. He is most content when others catch his spirit.
“I used to live down the street,’’ said Alex Salucco, 17, of Beverly, during a recent game. He would ride on the bus with Hannon’s son “and get excited to see it.’’ Salucco heads for Amesbury when he gets the chance. “This is the best sports experience I ever had,’’ he said.
Those words are music to Hannon’s ears. “On nice nights in June or July when it is not too hot, the grass is green, it is so beautiful, and you just take it all in,’’ Hannon said. “Baseball is everything good in life.’’