Series note: This is the fourth article in a series of check-ins with fans in the Padres community during the coronavirus suspension of the 2020 MLB season. Previous profiles have included @BobbyCressey, @FriarGal, and @PadresNoHitter.This week we become more acquainted with@lukester1976.
Welcome to Luke’s backyard
While most of us spent Opening Day lamenting the absence of baseball in our lives, Luke walked into his backyard and filmed this.
This is the story of how one man took a shovel to his backyard in Lakeside, California, and turned it into his Wiffle ball field of dreams.
Luke grew up in Frazier Park, a small mountain community in Kern County. He was raised by his grandmother, an avid Dodgers fan. It was just the two of them with Luke helping out with her dog grooming business.
Luke became a fan of the Dodgers like his grandma, and their shared love for the game helped them navigate some of the rough patches in his teen years. Luke describes both himself and his grandmother as “baseball junkies.”
Now 86, the cycle of life has turned for them, and grandma lives with Luke and his family in Lakeside. He takes her to the yard now and then.
In 2006, Luke joined the U.S. Navy, and he retired just recently after a 14-year career as a medical corpsman. He served two tours of duty in Iraq.
“After I deployed the first time in 2007, I didn’t come home the same.”
Like many who served in the Iraq War, Luke found himself in the Wounded Warrior Project, and with their assistance, he began the long road of recovery from the scars of having served in this conflict.
“What else helped you?” I asked him recently in an interview. He looked away from the webcam, towards home plate of his Wiffle ball field.
“Well, Geekster … this project … it brings me a feeling of therapy, of peace … it’s given me hope.”
In January of this year, Luke and his wife Camille discussed what to do with the backyard of the house they purchased about a year ago. The options they considered ranged from covering the entire space in concrete to installing artificial turf. They also talked about adding a gazebo and perhaps a fire pit.
But a long-held vision kept coming back to Luke. He couldn’t shake it.
“I said, you know, I’d like to build a Wiffle ball park. Because it’ll be fun. A lot of fun.”
In what can only be described as a “spouse of the year” response, Camille was immediately onboard.
Construction began soon thereafter. Having a backyard filled with “just dirt,” allowed them to work with a blank slate.
Luke got lucky with the pitcher’s mound. His yard already contained mostly clay soil, which he molded into the perfect mound and installed a pitcher’s rubber bearing Trevor Hoffman’s number.
For grass, he used a drought-tolerant succulent, fittingly named “Carpet of the Stars.”
First base is where the fun starts kicking into high gear with a nod to the famous Abbott & Costello routine.
Everything in the ballpark has been carefully considered and has either personal meaning to Luke or was placed in the field purely for its fun factor. The bleacher section is where his grandma sits, at the ready for “umpire reviews.”
There’s a 97.3 FM The Fan banner (Luke is a huge fan of Ben & Woods) along with posters of his favorite players, including Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe, and Jake Peavy.
Notice the stalks of corn planted in front of the Peavy banner. That’s an homage to “Field of Dreams,” of course. There’s also a rose bush dedicated to Pete Rose, a favorite player of Luke’s when he was growing up.
“It’s kind of like Disneyland … always changing, always updating.”
Luke has even installed solar lights for night games.
And, then, there are the park-specific ground rules.
“I do have a couple of short porches. If a ball hits the air conditioner on the roof, and you catch it on the rollback in the field of play, that’s an out.”
Tony Fantano (one of the “merry monks” of the Right Field Mission group of fans) visited Luke earlier this year for a game.
Luke’s ground crew includes three dogs but only one takes the job seriously. Rosie likes to retrieve inside-the-park home run balls and will also watch games with Luke in his baseball room.
But wait, there’s more
That’s right, there’s also a baseball room inside of Luke’s house.
This room houses a lifetime of Luke’s baseball collection, including memorabilia from what he describes as a “magical summer” vacation with Camille and their two children in 2017 that included Cooperstown, Yankee Stadium, Fenway, PNC, Wrigley Field, and more!
The room includes only a few mementos from his days as a Dodgers fan.
“Long story short, Geekster, I filed for divorce from the Dodgers.”
Things had been moving in that direction for Luke for many years but the final decision was made after receiving a warm welcome by the Padres when he asked permission for his Navy reenlistment ceremony to be held at Petco Park in 2014.
“I signed my multi-hundred dollar contract in the dugout [and] played catch on the field in my dress blues with my boy.”
Luke describes baseball as “transcendent” in the way it has united his family regardless of age, gender, and life experiences.
“I live and breathe baseball. This whole COVID thing is killing me. Absolutely, positively killing me.”
Yet, he knows and trusts that better days are ahead.
And, Luke has big plans for his Wiffle ball field. He envisions bringing in kids of all ages, hosting charity events, and playing games with others in the Padres community to celebrate the pure joy of being a fan.
“We will use this for good, Geekster.”
I believe you, Luke. I’d never bet against a man staring me down, Bob Gibson-style, with a Wiffle ball in a backyard that holds both dreams fulfilled and dreams on-deck.
Mostly here to promote fun baseball! My focus is on our experiences as fans and shared connections in the baseball community. I also produce content on social media, including vlogs and event coverage. Instagram: Geekster43