Marolt: Cutting diamonds and painting fences
Which would you rather have in town: an empty new building that looks like the old Mother Lode from the outside or a modern building of unique design that actually housed the old Mother Lode bar and restaurant inside? Would you like the old Wienerstube in the new Aspen Art Museum building or a new museum in the old Wienerstube space? Would residents complain about the noise if their penthouse was built above a remodeled yet ever-iconic La Cocina?
I’m not saying there is an easy answer. I’m asking because I don’t know. These probe the paradox of our legislatively preserved small town looking a lot like it did in 1985 but losing its feel from that era anyway.
What has happened here is not a failure of historic preservation but more the only result possible from a concentration on what can most practically be controlled. We hope that the structures we live in keep the weather out and the character in if they can only make us feel what we used to feel by being reminded of how they looked at the times when we felt Aspen was perfect. It is a noble exercise.
I thought about this as I tried to figure out why I think it is important to raise a few bucks to mow the grass and paint the fence at Crawford Field in El Jebel. It’s a neat old place where Aspen High School plays baseball in the springtime. It plays there because Aspen is blessed with snow.
We have the mountains and streams and forests to remind us of natural beauty when we need that kind of fix, but we have fewer things to remind us of the traditions of a hometown when our memories need exercise.
Crawford Field is old school. It’s uniquely a privately owned and maintained park. It’s the product of somebody’s labor of love — not just for baseball, which is the only game played on it, but also for the aesthetics of imperfection. It’s not flawed from carelessness, only due to the physical restrictions of placement and what a few people with hand tools, machinery on loan over the weekend and limited spare time can do. It’s a hobby. It’s a monument of private, but deep, significance. It’s a throwback to a time when “highest and best use” was a theory for places far away in the minds of men unknown who had the drive to rearrange the world for maximum profitability.
There is an irrigation ditch that runs unfenced and parallel to the left field foul line, 10 strides of a lanky outfielder from fair territory. The antique backstop is a little too close to home plate by modern standards of play, but what could they do? They had to work around a county road. Stray pop-ups pinball rhythmically through branches of surrounding cottonwoods that are older than most of the fans. The outfield fence is wood painted green. Nobody has wooden green fences anymore! The bleachers are old and awkwardly arranged, but hey, there’s more to comforting the soul than keeping your buns from falling asleep.
Not many people think of baseball as an Aspen game, but there are old pictures of them playing it in the fairgrounds from back when the town was young. Somehow it survived, like church, a picnic, an inner-tube float down the river and a few other activities that tie us to roots outside the valley.
The field is one of those things that have existed around here for a long time and we don’t know why. It doesn’t make economic sense. A development deal with the government could force someone to build a park like this, but they could never make us be so grateful for it.
I think we should take meaningful notice of this historical gem of a diamond. I think we should offer to pay for its upkeep to show our gratitude for it. That’s my pitch. It’s not an organized campaign of glossy brochures and galas to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a token to keep the field in good-enough shape so that players keep running its base paths, so that it doesn’t eventually feel the future pushing it out of its way. The only things at stake are its identity and ours.
If you agree, please send a small check to the athletic director at Aspen High School, 0235 High School Road, Aspen, CO 81611. Just put “Crawford Field” on the memo line. They’ll know what that means.
Roger Marolt believes in saving our sanity one diamond at a time. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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