by Elizabeth Hyde
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Costner wasn’t on hand for its dedication on Aug. 18, but it was a “Field of Dreams” nonetheless for the kids of Our Lady of Unity School.
For 10 years, it looked like the field might eventually be reclaimed by the rocky soil and overgrown weeds around it. But the old ball diamond at the Kansas City, Kansas, grade school was given new life thanks to a young Boy Scout and his friends and family.
The individual responsible for the miraculous transformation was Tommy Mitchell, a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood, who decided to renovate the baseball field as his Eagle Scout project this past spring and summer.
When Tommy was first casting about for an Eagle Scout project last year, he was at a loss until he approached St. Michael’s parish administrator Chris Arth, who suggested considering a project at Our Lady.
St. Michael’s and Our Lady of Unity are Companions in Faith, or sister parishes, within the archdiocese. Arth, also a board member of Companions in Faith, approached Janet Shlake, director of development at Our Lady, to brainstorm what help Our Lady most needed.
With an old baseball field covered in rocks and weeds that flooded every time it rained, the decision wasn’t difficult.
It wasn’t until after his proposal was accepted, however, that Tommy fully understood what he’d gotten himself into.
“I think he really didn’t realize the extent of the project until after he got it approved from the Eagle Scout committee,” said Dan Mitchell, Tommy’s father. “Tommy was overwhelmed when he heard all he would have to do. He spent six to nine months just figuring out how to get the raw materials worked out.”
A simple cosmetic fix might just have consisted of dragging the field and spraying for weeds. Only after consultation with a sports contractor did Tommy decide on a more comprehensive reconstruction.
After months of careful planning, Tommy determined that the field’s full repair would require almost $2,000 in materials and equipment, including their transportation to and from the field.
“Dan Hays of Kaw Valley Sand and Gravel, Inc., was extremely helpful in the process,” said Tommy. “I had never once met him, but he donated $1,000 worth of aggregate for the field. He was one of the most helpful people in my project.”
The balance of the money for the transportation of materials was made up by generous donors from the St. Michael community.
“It was pretty cool that everyone was so willing to donate,” said Tommy. “The donations just started coming in after I started asking people for assistance. . . . It showed there is a lot of generosity in the community.”
Armed with the help of generous volunteers and donors, Tommy was ready to get started.
“Getting people out there to work on it in the heat of summer was one of the bigger challenges of the project,” Tommy said. “Everyone has summer jobs, so it was tough getting people out there when they weren’t working.
“We ended up doing a lot of the work after 5 p.m. when it was cooler, and on the weekends.”
Tommy and volunteers replaced the infield with new aggregate, made new benches for the dugouts and restored the fencing on the backstop, putting in a total of 143 hours of manual labor. They also provided all the tools necessary for upkeep of the field, such as building an attachment for the school’s lawn mower for dragging the field every one to two weeks.
All of Tommy’s hard work has not gone unappreciated by the staff at Our Lady.
“We’re very thankful to Tommy and his dad, and all the volunteers,” said Shlake. “They’ve made a big impact on our school. We are so grateful for what they’ve done. This is just simply amazing for our kids.”
Father Kent O’Connor, pastor at Our Lady, has enjoyed watching the kids take advantage of the newly enhanced field.
“I’m really happy with it,” he said. “It’s a great improvement. And especially with the Royals kind of sparking new interest in baseball again, I think the timing is perfect.
“It seems to be a great thing for our parish and for the community.”