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Smith Park baseball field comes back to life in Middletown

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Volunteers restore former Smith Park baseball diamond in Middletown.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

There’s still a broken-down scoreboard beyond the outfield fence, overgrown by trees with its light bulbs dimmed by years of neglect, but the future is now bright for the refurbished baseball field it overlooks in Middletown.

The once-storied Rathman Ballfield in Smith Park has returned to life after three years of work and thousands of dollars of donated supplies and endless hours of volunteer work.

As a kid, Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso played on the field when the old scoreboard worked and light towers staved off the dark giving young players a big-league thrill of playing at night.

Urso’s vision was to restore the field so today’s young players could know the fun he had.

So in 2017 he teamed up with former stone mason Walter Dappert, and the two set out to bring the old ball field not just back to life but to make it even better.

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“One of my favorite childhood movies was “Field of Dreams.” The theme within the movie centered on the idea that ‘if you build it they will come,’ said Urso, a Middletown High School graduate and a longtime Middletown school board member.

“For years, families came to Smith Park to play baseball. Unfortunately, those opportunities fail to currently exist. The field Walt and I helped to build is an effort to bring back baseball for children in Middletown.”

Urso convinced city officials to donate thousands of dollars toward the project. He also credited the Miriam Knoll Foundation, Kettering Medical, the Cincinnati Reds Community Fund, Bohonnan Roofing, LCNB, Division III Brick Supplier, Reading Rock, “and many, many private donations from citizens within and outside of Middletown.” He also called out work by Charlie Anderson, Middletown’s public works superintendent.

He estimates the total cost of the project in donations and materials to be more than $250,000.

Dappert, who laid the brick work for the new dugouts and backstop, said he didn’t about the emotional connection for many in the city when he first began the project but found out fast it was strongly rooted in the hearts of many.

“I didn’t realize how important the field was to the people who had played there,” he said.

The old light towers are gone but the field now sports an artificial turf infield and other improvements are planned.

Dappert said watching players on the field has made all the volunteer work worthwhile.

“It’s their place now and it’s a joy to be out there,” he said.

The next part of the dream, said Urso, is starting up a youth baseball league.

“As we worked on the field we would hear stories from people walking by, stories about playing under the lights, the teams they played for and the friendships that were built,” he said. “We hope the field allows more memories to be created and cherished.”