Greenfield gem of diamonds turns 25

  • Murphy Park, a softball complex of four diamonds and a clubhouse set on 32 acres off Leyden Road in Greenfield, was the brainchild of Mike Murphy and has become a drawing card for girls’ softball teams from all over the Northeast. The facility on a picturesque rural setting celebrates its 25th birthday this summer. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Published: 8/22/2016 11:04:16 PM

It’s hard to imagine that Murphy Park has already reached its 25th birthday.

Yes, it’s a fact. This summer marks a quarter-century for one of western Massachusetts’ most beautiful youth softball facilities. And when you consider everything the Greenfield Girls’ Softball League had to go through to get this picturesque complex built, it makes it an even greater feat and truly underscores what can get accomplished when a community comes together.

Today, Murphy Park features four beautiful softball fields, complete with a sprinkler system as well as an income-generating concession stand. It is used throughout the summer not only for GGSL games but for the Suburban League, travel teams and as host to numerous tournaments as well.

It hasn’t always been such smooth sailing for the league. Some surely recall the pre-Murphy Park days of Greenfield youth softball. And that includes Mike Murphy, who for many years owned a Greenfield construction company and has crystal-clear memories. He can remember daughter Jennifer beginning to play softball four decades ago. Back then, girls’ sports were nothing like they are today. They were, in fact, a low priority compared to the longstanding local youth baseball leagues.

“There were maybe a dozen teams and the league wasn’t very organized,” he recalled. “They had hand-me-down shirts. That was when women’s sports started getting popular.”

Murphy said he also remembers a lot of the coaching being done by mothers trying their best despite limited knowledge. Because the opportunities weren’t there for them when they were younger, many of the mothers trying to coach just didn’t have the background or softball acumen.

“So many guys I graduated from school with would be sitting in their cars and complaining about the coaching,” he said. “I told them to get out of their cars. We started getting guys coaching and they were teaching their daughters and teaching some of the women who were coaching.”

Murphy became president of the league and the participation numbers began to soar. In the mid 1980s, a diamond was built in the field adjacent to the A.R. Sandri Building on Chapman Street, but it was soon apparent that wasn’t sufficient. The league needed more fields. For a time, the league explored putting in more fields behind the Sandri Building, but a pair of radio towers made that impossible.

“We were always struggling for fields,” Murphy said.

By the end of the 1980’s, Murphy was no longer president of the league but was still helping out new president Dick Sheperd. At the same time, a 32-acre BMX bike park off Leyden Road was on its last leg. The park had been efficiently run by Paul Hallowell, but then no one wanted to keep it going after Hallowell moved on.

Sheperd mentioned to Murphy the possibly of building some softball fields on that site, and Murphy took a ride to scope it out, bringing John Mackin of Mackin Construction along. To build softball fields there, a lot of dirt needed to be trucked in because of the property’s wetlands. But before they could try and tackle those issues, there was one final roadblock.

“We approached the town and they wanted to give us a section of Green River Park,” Murphy said. “But it’s out of the way and wasn’t good for us.”

Murphy eventually got the town to accept softball fields at the BMX park site, and suddenly a number of people and businesses in town got busy helping out. The Mackins were the biggest donators, supplying all the equipment the league needed.

“We were paying for fuel and manpower but not equipment,” Murphy said. “Pete Mackin was always a generous man. People didn’t know that side of him. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment.”

Buster Davenport pitched in by liming the field and sending a bulldozer and trucks. Rugg Lumber donated the materials to build the complex clubhouse, and the late Tim Duprey of Duprey Roofing shingled the entire building for free. A community effort, everybody pitched in. Franklin County Fabricators made the original backstop frames, Valley Masonry poured the pads where the benches are and also supplied labor, while John Doleva of Doleva Carwash donated his tractor with a rake on the back and did the final raking of the field before the grass seed was sowed. Snow & Sons Landscaping helped with the landscaping, and Channing Bete and Erving Paper were among the businesses to donate money.

“Not everyone has gotten the recognition they deserve over the years,” Murphy said.

But all the other contractors couldn’t add up to what Murphy was donating in time, money and resources. Randy Ward, Ray Ducharme and Michael Johnson were all working for him at the time, and each man donated time and spent hours working on the facility while getting paid by Murphy.

“I just had a love for it,” Murphy said. “It’s always been fun, and to go by there now and to watch when they have a tournament, it’s a rewarding feeling. Even if it wasn’t named Murphy Park, it would still be rewarding to see what has developed.”

And develop it has. Five years after the original three-field complex was completed, the GGSL Board asked if a fourth field could be added. Murphy went back to work, and within a couple of years a fourth field was ready. When the league ran into drainage problems on the new field, it was Murphy who took care of the problem. Former GGSL president Rich Mascavage (1995-2004) said that none of it would have been possible without all the time and money Murphy put into the project, and that’s the reason why in 1994 the league voted to name the complex after him.

“It’s a great facility, a great field, and if it wasn’t for Mike, it wouldn’t be there,” the Pipione’s Sport Shop owner said.

Murphy said that people have estimated that if the town were to build a similar complex today, it would probably run a couple million dollars. And that may be a modest estimate. One thing is certain, without all the generosity of businesses and people around town 25 years ago, our local girls might still be looking for a place to call home.

Instead, we have a beautiful youth softball complex, something Greenfield can be proud of in a day and age when our town has other troubling issues.

So, happy birthday, Murphy Park. You are as beautiful today as you were 25 years ago.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.




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