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Wiffle Ball calls players to this field of dreams

ALGOOD, Tenn. — Is this heaven? No, it’s Tennessee, home to Campbell Yard, one man’s Wiffle Ball field of dreams.
In a green pasture in rural Putnam County, maybe a mile past the Allgood city limits, sits the ballpark. It’s 95 feet down the foul lines to the fence in left and right fields and its 118 feet to the fence in dead center. There’s a scoreboard in left, being manually operated by the leftfielder, a wall of fame in right, and the American flag is flying in center.
Coed teams of mostly college kids in shorts and T-shirts are in the middle of a twilight doubleheader. They call to each other with the same old expressions ball player have been humming for decades.
“Come on, fire it in!” “Woo, woo, woo, woo!” “Good eye, good eye!”
Campbellball is played with plastic bats and a plastic white ball with eight holes in it, a Wiffle Ball, but it’s the spirit of the game that makes this place unique. Here, the players are having a holy ball with a holey ball.
“We started in 1996 with four players in my back yard. It’s a ministry for people to come and play in an environment where everybody encourages each other. It’s like the field of dreams,” says Kelly Campbell, a 42-year-old minister for Collegeside Church of Christ in nearby Cookeville.
“Slowly but surely it took off. We watched God make it grow. We started adding signs and bleachers and a scoreboard, and before you knew it, we had a stadium going on, and people started coming.”
People of all ages came. Smiles and laughter are constant as the games go on. Players nibble on cookies and cheese puffs between innings. There is an occasional home run and plenty of powerful swings that catch nothing but the cool night air.
Orianna Knowlton, 19, a sophomore at Tennessee Tech whose nickname is “Big O,” this year was the first female to hit a home run over the fence at Campbell Yard. This evening, “Big O” knocks a pitch against the left-field fence.
“It’s fun. I like how everybody is so nice and positive. I love the camaraderie and not having to worry about who wins and who loses,” says Knowlton, who last year played college softball at Liberty University.
In the first game, the Lions slay the Sheep 14-8. After the final out, both teams gather around the pitcher’s mound for a prayer. Before the second game between the Bears and the Goats, Campbell plays the national anthem from a tape recorder as both teams stand facing the flag from the base lines.
This is the ninth season of Campbellball and its second year at a new field.
Campbellball is played year round with about 70-80 players in the summer and 100 during the school year. Over the nine years, 2,000 players from ages 5 to 86 have participated.
In the fall there is a Tuesday night league of four teams, while every Sunday afternoon, it’s purely sandlot ball where anyone who stops by is welcome to play. There are some notable differences from the national pastime.
“The whole concept of the game is baseball, but we have certain rule changes that make it easier to play. … If the play can’t be decided, we have a do-over. You can throw at a person to get them out. Every inning we rotate positions so nobody gets stuck in right field. Everybody bats,” Campbell says about a few of the major differences between this game and hardball.
For the Sunday games, teams are formed by picking checkers: You draw black, you’re on one team; red, you’re on the other.
“One Sunday, we had 44 people show up, so we had 22 players at a time on the field,” Campbell says.
Jeff “Iron Man” Gaw played 135 straight weeks at Campbell Yard.
“You can see why. This is a blast,” says the 25-year-old teller for Regent’s Bank in Cookeville. “A player invited me out. I played awful, but I know I wanted to do it again. Nobody’s excluded. We just have a real good time out here.”
Gaw is one of 20 players in the Campbellball Hall of Fame, which just relocated into a clubhouse at the park. The hall contains donations from the players, such as jerseys, shorts, socks or shoes.
“The bottom line – people’s relationships with God improves out here. People learn about Christians out here. Whether you win or lose is not important, but to have fun and glorify God,” Campbell says. “Some people catch the vision. It’s more than a game, it’s about God, it’s a ministry.”
The Hensons, husband and wife Bryan and Ginny, caught that vision. The ball park is in their back yard.
“My son goes to TTU, and he played Campbellball. They needed somewhere to move the field, and I was just bush-hogging it,” Bryan Henson says, “He asked me, ‘Can we move Campbellball to our back yard?’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and he took it from there. Everybody pitched in with the labor. I’m basically the caretaker.”
On this night, the Hensons have hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and soft drinks laid out on a picnic table for players and spectators.
“Good, clean fun, no drinking, no cursing, just a lot of fun, just a good place for those kids to hang around with one another,” Bryan Henson says. “I don’t think you could use this land for anything better.”
Kelly Campbell adds, “Guys come out there, through friendships and environment, and it has changed the ways they live their lives.
“It does take a lot of time, but this has probably brought me as much fulfillment as much as anything I have done as teacher and preacher.”
SEE WWW.CAMPBELLBALL.COM for additional photos and information. This story apeared in the Oct. 14, 2005, edition of The (Nashville) Tennessean and is reprinted with permission. Copyrighted by The Tennessean.

Filed under: People Staff Reports

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