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Club director works to return game to historic fieldOriginally Published September 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 27, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.
Pat Ramsay, chief professional officer of the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club, began his career working in the Benton club 33 years ago. The colorful floor of the recently redecorated break room is among the renovations made in the Hot Springs clubhouse since Ramsay joined the club in 2010.
Standing on an old asphalt tennis court in Hot Springs, you can’t help but wonder if Pat Ramsay hears that same voice as in the movie Field of Dreams.
“Build it and they will come.”
Ramsay, chief professional officer of the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club, wants to clear away the old tennis court, where trees have grown through the fence and grass and weeds have grown tall after breaking through the tarmac. He wants to turn the spot, which is near the main clubhouse on West Belding Street, into T-ball fields for the younger children who attend the club’s after-school and summer programs.
But the dream goes way beyond a new facility for the kids. The land where the crumbling tennis court now sits was once part of Majestic Field, built by the Boston Red Sox in 1909.
“Isn’t it cool,” Ramsay said when the history of the spot was mentioned. “The town is deeply entrenched with baseball.”
Players like Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Tris Speaker played there when Hot Springs was the site for Major League Baseball’s spring training. No less than four markers from the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail are located on or near the grounds of the Boys & Girls Club.
After his career was over, Rogers Hornsby, perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history, came back to Hot Springs to oversee one of the top baseball training schools in the country. Hall of Famers such as Grover Cleveland Alexander and Dizzy Dean taught young players who came to the Spa City hoping to make their dreams of a major league career a reality.
To help make real the dreams of Hot Springs’ youth for fun, good life skills and good nutrition, Ramsay, his staff and supporters of the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club will hold a fundraising event called the Field of Dreams at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Superior Bathhouse on Central Avenue.
“We hope to have about 100 and hope we can raise around $5,000 for the renovation,” Ramsay said. “The project is going to cost well over $120,000. We want to cover the area with turf and make it a multipurpose field for soccer and other sports, and a place where we could perhaps have two T-ball games going on at once.”
Ramsay said they hope to be able to save some of the asphalt surface — the usual foundation for an artificial turf field — but there are also drainage problems.
The Field of Dreams annual fundraiser has been going on for nine years, the club’s CPO said. Over the years, the club has built up a large baseball program that operates in the spring and fall and draws more than 500 participants.
“Most Boys & Girls Club events like this have a speaker, but ours is a more-social event,” Ramsay said. “We will have a silent auction, but the focus of the event is to thank our volunteers, who don’t just help the club at the fundraiser, but throughout the year.”
In the past, the auction has included items such as golf equipment, from balls to carts; vacation trips; and gift certificates of all descriptions. The donated items are a major source of funds for the T-ball-field project.
Born in Florida, where his father was working as a doctor at a federal correction institution, Ramsay and his family moved to Benton when he was 7. In high school, he played fullback for the Benton High School Panthers.
“We were not the best team in the world in those days,” Ramsay said. “We never won the conference, but we had several 8-4 seasons, and in those days, we beat Bryant every year.”
He attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, then transferred to Arkansas State University.
“College just wasn’t working out for a while,” Ramsay said. “I even went to UALR (the University of Arkansas at Little Rock) and finished later at Dallas Baptist University.”
Ramsay was working pouring concrete in the summer of 1980 when a job came open at the Boys & Girls Club. That opportunity has become a 33-year career for Ramsay.
“I was hired when I was 23 years old as a program coordinator,” he said. “I didn’t know they actually paid people to work with kids like this, but by the end of the summer, I understood.”
From 1980 to 1989, he went from running just one of the club’s programs to looking after all the sports programs, then became the club’s executive director in 1985.
“The Benton club was built by the community, with the land being donated and Rick Holland contributing the dirt work for the location of Cox Street,” Ramsay said. “When I was a kid, the club was in the old utility building, and there was one long hallway with game tables placed along the walls.”
In 1989, Ramsay moved to Dallas to be the director of one of the suburban clubs and led several clubs in the area until he was made director of all the Dallas area clubs in 1996.
“After Benton, Dallas was a big place and a melting pot, with kids from all over the world coming to the clubs,” Ramsay said. “At one of the clubs was a group of Kurdish kids whose families came to the U.S. after the first Gulf War through Catholic Charities. They had been nomads, and the kids really didn’t know a lot about living in any city, much less in a large American city. They had to learn everything about cooking in a kitchen, modern bathrooms and American manners.
For his part, Ramsay said, he had to try figuring out the clan dynamics of the group of young Kurdish boys.
“If one of them started to curse me out in Kurdish, I would ask him to leave,” he said. “As he left, eight to 10 more would leave with him. They were brothers or cousins, so if one moved, they all did.”
However, Ramsay said, his work with children has been very rewarding over the years.
“I’ve had a career watching kids grow up,” he said. “I have been able to see them grow and go on to college or build a career path. Kids I worked with in Benton still visit and tell me how much they appreciate their time at the club. Money cannot offer that kind of satisfaction.”
After more than 20 years in Texas, like many Arkansans, Ramsay came home.
“I love Arkansas and its people. Dallas had a lot of offer, but I’m a small-town boy from Benton,” he said. “And this job came open in Hot Springs, and my mother lives here and other family. Coming here was a good fit.”
The programs now found in the Boys & Girls Club go far beyond the sports program Ramsay first ran in Benton.
“We have the Powerhour, when the kids can do their homework with help from tutors,” he said. “We also have the Passport to Manhood for 13- and 14-year-olds. We talk with them about the things that affect boys of that age — like girls, drugs, peer pressure, bullying and having respect for other kids who are different. They earn badges and patches similar to in the Boy Scouts.
There are also exercise and nutritional programs, along with sports programs like baseball and basketball for ages 5-12.
Ramsay said this position might not be his last job, but he enjoys the work, the kids and the town.
“The environment is beautiful with the mountains, and the people are from all around the country,” he said. “And there are all types of people around here. We reach out to the kids through the schools and churches, and we are in a low-income area, so it’s inviting for kids with hardships.”
After the T-ball field is built, Ramsay said, he will turn his attention to the existing building, which is in need of repair.
“It was built in 1988, and the old tin roof needs to be re-coated, and that could be an $80,000 job,” he said.
But the condition of the building does not diminish the work going on to help children grow up so that each one can build his or her own field of dreams.
For more information about the Field of Dreams event on Oct. 24, call the Hot Springs Boys & Girls Club at (501) 623-2711.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.