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A Diamond in the Front Yard

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By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

It is the classic portrait of American fatherhood: Dad playing catch with his kid in the front yard.

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But it wasn't enough for Jim Scardina. No, he took the idea and launched it as far as he could imagine -- past the bases, past the outfield, all the way to the fences.

Now, his entire front yard is a baseball field. With dugouts, bleachers, even a concession stand.

Piece by piece during the past 10 years, Scardina has built the field from scratch, to the astonishment of his neighbors, the disapproval of his wife and the delight of his son.

On game days, Joe Scardina, 19 and playing in a summer league, simply rolls out of bed, pulls on his uniform and steps out the door onto the outfield.

"I'm sure there's a lot of people who think I'm crazy," Jim Scardina said on a hot day as he prepared the infield for another summer season. "But there's also probably a lot of baseball fanatics out there who think it's pretty cool."

And as his son has grown from Little League to high school to college ball, Scardina has expanded the field. These days, to visit his house in Millersville in Anne Arundel County, you must first drive the entire length of the baseball diamond and walk along the outfield fence to reach his door.

His visitors bring up the "Field of Dreams" thing a lot. ("Everybody likes to think it's like what happened in the movie, but it wasn't really like that," Scardina said.) Others prefer to see it as a heartwarming symbol of a father's love, but that's not quite the whole truth either. Just try to bring up that father-son stuff and Scardina, a plumber and a bear of man at 48, is likely to change the subject.

"Look at this dirt," he says abruptly, crouching down. "This is what good dirt feels like."

Scardina takes comfort in such tangible details -- in figuring out the right and wrong way to do things.

Figuring out the dirt took a while. Too sandy, and the infield turns into a big dust bowl. Too hard, and it kills the players' legs when they slide into bases. Too much clay, and it takes forever to dry after a rainstorm.

Ask him why he built the field, and you'll get a short, perfunctory answer. But ask him what it takes to keep the field in shape, and he'll go on about the intricacies of outfield grass, the different dragging patterns needed to even out the infield, the crucial role of clay for firm ground underneath the batter's box.


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