The Valdosta Daily Times
Jim Bennett looked out at his backyard. Where some men might have seen woods, Bennett saw opportunity. An opportunity to channel his inner Kevin Costner and build his own baseball field.
That was back in 2007. Today, the Valdosta Batmen and Little Batmen arrive on a nearly daily basis behind Bennett’s house to hit batting practice, take infield and play ball on their own field. Bennett Field. Yes, just like Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams, Bennett plowed over land in his backyard to build a baseball field.
But this field isn’t for ghosts of baseball’s past. It’s for baseball’s future. The field is for the Batmen, two of whom are Austin and Sam, Bennett’s sons.
“We were literally sharing a football field one day with a girl’s softball team at the Boys and Girls Club,” Bennett, a lawyer in Valdosta, said. “They were hitting into us and we were hitting into them. A couple dads were standing around and said we should build a field at my place. I thought it was a joke. One of them had a construction business. Two days later we had excavators and dump trucks out here pushing up wood.”
As Bennett said, the rest is history.
Bennett Field is a sight to behold. Located on Bennett’s property just south of town, it’s not some ordinary field that was plowed over and half-heartedly shaped into a diamond just to pass as a ball field. It has all the bells and whistles of a cozy ballpark, including fences, dugouts, a batting cage, bullpen, scoreboard, loudspeakers and even signage with sponsors plastered across the outfield fence. There are no lights. Yet.
A fitting sign greets those who walk up to the field. A picture of a charging baseball player with a Batmen uniform pops out on the backstop and underneath is a quote from Austin Bennett that reads, “If you don’t like baseball, you are wrong.”
It’d be hard to argue that any of the Batmen (9-10-year-olds) or the Little Batmen (7-8-year-olds) don’t like baseball. The field always seems to be in use by the young players. Bennett Field hosts small tournaments, mini camps and some private instructions. And Bennett is open to letting the players come out whenever they want to get in some extra practice.
“We’re not trying to compete with anyone like Parks and Rec or Boys Club, but this gives us an opportunity to have a place to play where we don’t have to go through red tape,” Bennett said. “Kids can come out here and play games and have an experience they’ll always remember.”
That’s also true for opposing teams. The Batmen host other squads from Valdosta and around South Georgia and North Florida. Bennett said the other teams get a kick out of what he has in his backyard.
“Initially people will drive up from Tallahassee, Suwannee, Tifton or whatever and they’ll question their coach why they’re driving that far to play in someone’s backyard,” Bennett said. “They’ll get here an inevitably they’re pulling out cameras and phones and texting people back home they can’t believe this.”
Bennett added that his field provides more of a comfortable setting for competition. He said it’s not unusual for visiting parents to bring a grill and for the different teams and parents to eat and get to know each other in between or after games.
“The atmosphere is a lot different,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the field would not have been possible without Avery Walden, Walt Gill and Steve Fender. Walden did the initial contracting job with Southern Allied Contractors. After a couple years the field had so much use that some parts had to be redone. Gill with Pinnacle Prime Contractors came in and installed new dirt and grass. Fender with Fender & Sons Fencing did the fences.
“There’s a lot of people to thank, but of course I have to thank my wife Lori for putting up with having a ballpark in the backyard,” Bennett said. “She is so awesome and patient to put up with it. This is the ranch she grew up on and I don’t think she envisioned a baseball field here.”
Lori has taken the baseball obsession in stride. She joked she gave Jim the blessing to build the field as long as only a few deer appeared in the outfield and not ghosts.
“It’s fun,” Lori said. “I can cook dinner and come out here and watch the boys play. The other moms, they must think I’m a saint.”
Except for the possible addition of lights, Bennett Field should stay the same for a while. The outfield wall is 200 feet which is the right size for the Batmen. Once Austin and the other current Batmen outgrow the field they’ll be playing middle school ball. Sam has many years left playing at Bennett Field, and once he outgrows it, a third Bennett, Cole, will be ready to play on it. He’s only four but already enjoys T-ball.