CHICAGO — Phoenix Military Academy's baseball team is now 1-0 all-time — and probably for all time — at "Half-Mowed Field."
The Near West Side school, in desperate need of a baseball diamond after its usual field got booked by another school, came up with a novel idea — mow a large, overgrown vacant lot nearby and carve a field out of the high grass, much of which hadn't been cut in two years.
Coach Craig Griffin spent eight hours over two days — using just a small lawnmower — to make the field.
On Tuesday, in a fully sanctioned prep game, his boys beat Crane 12-6 on the makeshift field — which Griffin lovingly dubbed "Half-Mowed Field."
"It's as sandlot as it comes. No backstop, no benches, cones mark baselines, and the street is the home run fence," Griffin said. "If I had more time, or, for some reason, had to play there again, I'd chalk the lines and do a little more work on the mound, but I think it served its purpose ... and we had a pretty good crowd there, too."
Coach Craig Griffin on Monday makes a baseball field out of an empty lot for the Phoenix Military Academy baseball team, which won its game Tuesday. [Katie Comeford]
Senior Bryan Sanchez, who had a home run in the victory, said of the team’s circumstances: “I prefer we had a greater field, but since we don't have a real field, we do what we have to.”
Phoenix improved to 3-2 overall with the win, and Griffin said it will play the rest of its home games at Union Park, which has a backstop and benches. Union Park wasn't available for Tuesday's game.
The team used to play home games at Columbus Park, but Griffin said that wasn't an option this year because St. Ignatius College Prep reserved the field for the whole spring.
So Griffin turned to the lot across from the school at 145 S. Campbell Ave.
He got permission from Eddie Curry, the Chicago Public Schools official in charge of baseball scheduling, to play the game there — and got to work.
A solitary Griffin carved out row after row using a gas mower donated by a player's family — a bandanna covering his face.
"Thank Christ I brought a bandanna with me," said Griffin, a large-scale mural instructor at the school. "I stirred up some foulness while mowing, and I'm still unable to breathe."
Having served its game day purpose, the vacant lot will serve as a practice field for the rest of the season.
"There's something to be said for being able to walk across the street and play a home baseball game," Griffin said. "The guys were all pretty grateful to have the chance.
"And now we have a freshly shaved practice field."