A fond memory of Marvin Russell, 1919-2004
Green Forest's Marvin Russell must be walking around in the original Field of Dreams this week, along with other baseball greats like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Babe Ruth that have gone on before.
Russell, a youth program pioneer who helped get the softball fields in Green Forest built and finished in 1985, died on Monday, June 28, at the age of 84.
It is almost impossible to think about baseball and softball in Green Forest without the image of Russell coming to mind.
In June of 1996 his contributions not only to the procuring of the fields, but his personal maintaining of those fields via mowing, raking, and trimming, were honored when a softball field was named "Field of Dreams" at Marvin C. Russell Field.
In his later years, Russell was unable to personally maintain the fields he was so proud of, as he said in an earlier story, "My ankles gave out on me." No surprise, as he had been in the United States Army in WWII in the Pacific theater, where he was taken as a prisoner of war and marched in the infamous Bataan Death march that saw many of his comrades fall by the wayside.
Over the years, Russell has been recognized for his involvement in area sports with plaques from associations, fans, and civic organizations noting his dedication and support of all types of youth programs in the area.
Curtis Matthews, who covered the sports beat for Carroll County Newspapers in the late 1990s, was touched by Russell's devotion to a game that he had come to know and love.
Matthews penned a column in honor of Russell in 1998:
"Although Marvin didn't know until years later that the story was about him," Matthews recalled, "I did send him a letter about a year ago telling him what a good friend he was and that I did write about him.
"The story was about baseball," he said, "but the story could just as easily have been about football. Marvin traveled with me to every junior high road football game when my son C.J. was an eighth and ninth grader.
He told of countless sports stories from his childhood to his adulthood. He also talked about his days as a POW in WWII. He has given me countless memories and I was always thankful to call him a friend. He was a permanent fixture during football and baseball games for many years. He was a great Tiger Booster.
"Here is the column that he inspired."
With summer baseball and softball starting around the area, many things make the ballparks special. Besides hot dogs and apple pie, friendly faces make the days worth remembering. So, with that in mind, I thought you might enjoy the following.
There's one in every town.
They come to the games, they come to the practices, they even keep up with your family, but most of all, they know the game of baseball.
Sometimes there is more than one, but in most cases, there's just one.
Maybe they were a coach once, or maybe their kid or kids played in years past.
Whatever the case, the familiar face is a welcome sight for anyone who spends time at the ballpark.
The first time they talk to you, it's an honor, but to them, it's an interview.
They know the game, and when they talk to you, they want to know how much you know.
They ask questions like, "how's your infield," or "who's your clean-up hitter," and "how many good arms you got?"
If you know a little about the game, they keep talking to you.
By now you feel as if you've made a new friend, but to them, they're still not sure about you.
As time passes, like conversations, they start sharing their philosophies, not demanding, just sharing.
"You may think I'm old fashioned, but I've seen enough ballgames in my time to know what I'm talking about," they will say with conviction.
If you're lucky enough to get that far, you start hearing about players from the past. Players that are grown and working in the real world.
"He had a good glove when he was young. Did you ever get to see him play?"
It doesn't matter, they continue. Made it look easy, a natural you might say.
Why I've seen him make plays that should have been base hits.
All you can say to any of the stories is a polite yes-sir.
"Say, tell me, you're not teaching the kids how to throw a curve-ball are you?" For the first time, you say something more than yes-sir.
If you've gotten this far, it's customary to ask them questions. You have to. It's an unwritten rule.
Yes-sir, did you ever play ball you ask?
The stories vary, but the look in their eyes never does. Memories of the past are windows to the soul as their thoughts disappear for seconds that represent years.
"Played everyday," most will say. "That's when I got out of work or chores.
"Couldn't get enough of the game. Played for the pure sport of it," they say.
"Things have changed, not too many kids play because they love it any more. Kids have too many distractions, no time to get better."
Yes-sir, you say, for what seems like the millionth time.
Each conversation is different, but still the same. Baseball is the conversation, and the best interest of the little kids is what's at stake.
The players grow up, some get better, and some, well, they just play.
Some get eat up with the game, and others, it's just for the summer.
For the ones who come to every game, practice and memories along the way, we should all say thanks.
Yes, there is one in every town. The names are different, but the story remains the same.
They come to cheer, encourage, and watch every game.
Things may have changed along the way, but for them, the love is still there with every strike called, ball hit, and catch that is ever made.
Keep coming to the ballpark, I want to say. For your knowledge and presence are appreciated for the game that stays the same.
Thanks Marvin Russell for all the memories. You will be missed.