Unlike a beloved Hollywood movie, no one has built a world-class baseball diamond in a cornfield in Mount Airy, but the city can lay claim to its own “field of dreams” all the same.
And the hero who made it possible was not Kevin Costner, the star of the film by that name, but a local resident who wanted young baseball players to have the best — the late Scott Graham, a city commissioner/sports enthusiast.
“Scott was the kind of person, when he did something, he wanted to do it right,” his wife Kristie recalled last week of Mount Airy’s former at-large commissioner who succumbed to cancer in January 2014 at age 64.
And that’s exactly what resulted years before when Graham — who was the owner and president of Virginia-Carolina Paving Co. — spearheaded a plan, subsequently executed with the help of others, to develop a quality Little League field for local youths.
“All we had were school ball fields around here,” Mrs. Graham said.
“He just really had a passion for a good baseball field in Surry County,” she added of her late husband, who had played baseball and basketball at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem while growing up there.
The result of his vision was Graham Field, located on Jones School Road in northern Mount Airy.
It was completed in 2002, and reportedly has been declared the best Little League field within a 500-mile radius by officials of the Cal Ripken youth league. It became a fixture for countless baseballers here, typically ages 6 to 12, who have been able to enjoy a quality facility over the past 15 or so years.
“I think that every one of those baseball players in Mount Airy is indebted to Scott Graham’s efforts,” said Jon Cawley, another city commissioner, who also is the head baseball coach at Mount Airy High School. Cawley assisted Graham in developing the Little League baseball field, but gives Graham most of the credit for making it a reality.
“It started as a dream,” Cawley added last week, “and any time you have a dream, you have to have people who can make it happen — and Scott made it happen.”
Graham was the straw that stirred the drink for an effort that in addition to Cawley was aided by then-city Commissioner Todd Harris, Randy Beasley and others.
“It takes a village,” Cawley said of what’s required to complete such a project.
Commissioner Jim Armbrister, who succeeded Graham as the at-large representative on the five-member Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, pointed out during its last meeting that numerous community residents have worked to enhance and improve the field over the years.
This has included elbow grease and monetary donations on the part of individuals, groups and businesses, Armbrister said while standing on the side of Graham Field last week and surveying its batting-cage, observation tower and other facilities.
Owned by county
The average citizen might think Graham Field is a city government-owned facility — but it actually is the property of Surry County.
This reflects the traditional county government ownership of public educational sites across Surry. Graham Field was part of the former J.J. Jones school property, located across the road from the old campus now known as L.H. Jones Family Resource Center.
After Graham Field was established in 2002, the city used it for recreational purposes for several years afterward before formalizing that through a lease forged with Surry County in April 2007.
As part of that agreement, the municipality agreed to assume a $15,000 promissory note from an entity known as Friends of Baseball Inc. dating from 2003, which in 2007 had a balance of $6,000.
The city government also assumed liability insurance coverage for Graham Field; renovations, alterations and other improvements to buildings and grounds; and the maintenance of those.
That 10-year lease agreement expires on May 31, and the milestone has prompted a move by the city government — led by Armbrister — aimed at acquiring ownership of the Graham Field property.
In their meeting on Feb. 16, the city commissioners approved a resolution — in a 5-0 vote — formally requesting that the Surry County government transfer it to Mount Airy, which would continue to use the field for recreational purposes.
“This has been a goal of mine for some time,” Armbrister explained.
He thinks city ownership is justified due to the efforts many people and officials of the Mount Airy community have put into Graham Field, and to ensure it always will remain in the hands of the municipality in which it is located.
With the transfer of ownership that is proposed, Mount Airy would continue to maintain Graham Field while not incurring any additional burden from what it already is supplying for upkeep and related expenses, Armbrister said.
“It will help us secure this great investment that the people I referenced have put into the field,” he explained — including the late Scott Graham.
“There’s some emotion to it,” Armbrister said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.