Princeton, Ky., is a small town of about 6,000 residents. It’s roughly a two-hour drive from the nearest major league baseball stadium: Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. But locals have their own version of the iconic structure. Little Busch Stadium on the Parker family’s farmland is a Field of Dreams style project that unites the community.
“When somebody walks on to this field, for a minute they feel like they’re playing on a major league field,” says Denis Hodge, organizer of the Jake Hodge Memorial Foundation Tournament at Little Busch Stadium. “No matter your age, it doesn’t matter if you’re six years old, we’ve had people in their 70s who have played in this tournament, and they still get that same excitement.”
Ken Parker, creator of the project, says that Little Busch Stadium is a one-quarter replica of its namesake. Parker’s family and friends helped build the stadium, and it has become a point of pride for the town.
“My wife and I purchased this property in 2010. We have a little over four acres here,” says Parker. “I always wanted to have a whiffle ball field when I was a kid. We built this field and we decided we wanted to do something to give back to our community. We figured we had some land and so why not use it for a good cause?”
The Jake Hodge Memorial Foundation Tournament is held in honor of Jake Hodge, a young athlete who died at the age of 12. The tournament raises money for scholarships that are awarded annually to students at area high schools.
“We wanted something that could give kids an opportunity to pay it forward, give adults from different communities an opportunity to come together in a different type of atmosphere as opposed to competitive athletics that we see in high school sports,” says Denis Hodge. “We’ve been able to give out well over $100,000 in scholarship money since 2009.”
The 2018 tournament brought in 24 teams and between 400 and 500 people. The teams vary in skill and demographic, including men and women, kids and adults, backyard players and former college athletes. But whiffle ball is something of an equalizer.
“Baseball, you can kind of cheat,” explains Conner McEnaney, a member of the team that won the tournament in 2015. “If you don’t hit a ball as clean, you can almost get away with it. Whiffle ball, if you don’t hit the ball clean you’re going to pop it up and hit the mound every time.”
Invented in the 1950s, whiffle ball was designed as an accessible version of baseball that doesn’t require as much space or expensive equipment.
“All of us went into our backyard and somehow, some way, we designed a little ‘field of dreams,’” says Hodge. “It doesn’t matter if it was where your mom hung the laundry; that that’s the home run. Three strikes you’re out, four fouls we’re out. Now we’re big kids and we built toys that are a little more expensive and a little prettier, but everybody gets that same feeling of being a kid again.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2401, which originally aired on October 6, 2018. Watch the full episode.