When Bob Frederick was in high school, he played baseball on the Central Park A Diamond, and he later played semi-professional baseball there, in the defunct Schenectady Twilight League.
"I played professional ball with the Dodgers farm system," Frederick, now 85, recalled. "And the A Diamond playing field was as good as any professional field I played on."
These days, nobody plays baseball on the A Diamond, one of three baseball fields in Schenectady's Central Park.
The chainlink fence sags. The clubhouse is faded and worn. There are weeds, and the field is patchy and uneven. But what might be most striking about it is how empty it is — how abandoned, almost ghostly, it feels.
The rundown condition of the A Diamond has long been a source of sadness for old ballplayers like Frederick.
I met Frederick a couple weeks ago, when I was a guest of the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club at their regular breakfast gathering at the Glenville Queen Diner.
The club has over 100 members, most of who are in their sixties, seventies and eighties, and many of them played baseball on the A Diamond when they were younger. They want to see the field fixed up, and for it to become a popular spot for ballplayers of all ages to gather, play and watch games.
"If the ballfield is enhanced you're going to get people in from out of town to see their children play baseball," Frederick said. "High schools could play there, the Cal Ripken (Collegiate Baseball league) could play there. The field will be utilized."
It might sound like a pipe dream, but there's a good chance the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club's vision of a ballfield restored to its former glory will come to fruition.
Major improvements are planned for the A Diamond and the nearby Music Haven stage, and work on both facilities is expected to start soon.
This is great news for baseball fans, music fans and anyone else who cares about the overall condition of Central Park, a lively and much-loved place that's in need of upgrades and better maintenance.
I first learned about the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club from Paul McDonald, a Niskayuna resident who serves as the group's assistant treasurer and walks regularly in Central Park.
McDonald first contacted me over a year ago to express concerns with the overall condition of Central Park, and he got in touch with me again this summer with similar concerns.
A month or so ago I joined McDonald for a walk around the park, and listened as he pointed out downed tree branches, dead trees, patches of weeds and other signs of neglect.
"There are missing stones on the stone bridge," said McDonald, who is in his mid-seventies and grew up within blocks of Central Park. He pointed to the creek below, which was overgrown with plants. "Years ago, this was a really nice stream."
At one point, McDonald shook his head at a tree stump. "This stump has been sitting here since May of last year," he said. Some time later, a broken water fountain caught his eye. "I don't think this fountain ever worked," he said. "Well, it did, because I remember when they put it in."
Central Park is a beautiful park, but it's easy to start noticing its flaws when you have a tour guide like McDonald.
McDonald isn't the only person with concerns about the park — I've heard others say that the park is a little shabby in places, though they usually follow this observation with the caveat that the Schenectady lacks the funds and manpower needed to keep the city's 25 parks in sterling condition.
This might be true, but planned upgrades — which include renovations to the park's once world-class tennis courts and new playground equipment — should make a big difference. One can quibble with the timing — wouldn't it have been better to install the playground equipment before summer, rather than in early fall? — but these new amenities are reason for optimism.
Of course, Central Park would look even better if the smaller problems McDonald pointed out — the downed tree limbs, the overgrown creek beds, the broken water fountains — were addressed.
In addition to playing baseball at Central Park, Frederick served as Schenectady's superintendent of parks for 14 years, retiring in 1989. "Central Park could be better maintained," he told me. "When I (oversaw the parks) I was there everyday. It was something I took pride in."
Frederick's career with the Dodgers ended when he was hit in the eye with a line drive.
But he still loves baseball, and he believes he and other members of the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club would be willing to assist the city in keeping the A Diamond clean.
"There are volunteers that will help," Frederick said.
"The men (in the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club) were great athletes in their day," Vince Riggi, a member of the Schenectady City Council who also belongs to the Schenectady Old Timers Baseball Club, told me. "The A Diamond is something they grew up with and it's close to their hearts. ... That's why it's broken so many hearts to see it in the shape it's in."
With any luck, it won't be too long before the A Diamond is active again, alive with the cracks of baseball bats and the hard thunks of balls into gloves, and all those broken hearts are mended.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.