Fenway Park has its Green Monster, Wrigley Field its ivy. Old Crosley Field in Cincinnati had a terrace angling up to the outfield wall, which made life interesting -- and sometimes perilous -- for those chasing down fly balls.
Unique touches are part of a ballpark's charm and so it goes with the Martensdale-St. Marys High School diamond in the tiny town of St. Marys, south of Des Moines. When a hitter sends the left fielder back to the wall, you can take that literally. Because part of the left field fence truly is a wall _ the brick wall of an old gym.
There's no longer a school attached to it and it's not even a gym anymore. Now it houses -- get this -- an indoor hitting area. Martensdale-St. Marys may play in Class 1A, the division with the state's smallest schools, but it's strictly big-time when it comes to baseball.
The building's roof rises initially at a modest angle from the top of the wall, then inclines more sharply upward to the peak. A ball that hits off the wall is in play. A ball landing on the roof is a home run. Learning that bit of information took me back to my younger days when I'd stand in the barnyard of my grandparents' farm in western Ohio, toss a ball into the air and try to hit it onto the roof of the barn. Or, if I really got ahold of it (that happened only rarely), over the barn.
The St. Marys diamond, which sits on the east edge of town, doesn't have a barn. But a postcard-perfect white church stands beyond the right field fence, replete with stained glass windows and a tall, elegant steeple. I forgot to ask if a powerful left-handed hitter had ever broken one of those windows.
Naturally -- this being Iowa, after all -- a cornfield borders the ballpark down the left and right field lines. That adds to the challenge of finding foul balls that carry out of the park, but there's always a handful of youngsters eager to tromp through the rows of green stalks to find them.
On a warm summer evening, with the sun dipping behind the church, a baseball fan would be hard pressed to find a more bucolic spot to watch a game. Did I mention the concession stand? Alas, no cheese balls, but bag of popcorn, a hot dog and a large pop costs all of $3.50. Let's see, $3.50 in a major league park would get you, well, it probably wouldn't get you anything.
Topping it off, you get to see one heck of a high school baseball team. On Thursday night, Martensdale-St. Marys routed Winterset 18-3 (it took the Blue Devils only 3 1/3 innings to score all those runs) for its 60th straight victory, which broke the state record held by Lansing Kee, another small-school baseball giant.
Highlighting the victory: Robert Walker tagged one onto the left field roof, the ball landing with a thump and rolling halfway to the top before tumbling back down. The church, on this night, escaped untouched.
If the Blue Devils win out and claim their second consecutive state championship, their streak could reach into the upper 80s.
Even those diehards at Fenway would be impressed with that.