Dreaming about a larger field

As recently reported by The Commercial, a local committee for the 2015 Babe Ruth 14-year-old World Series headed by Jim Hill just signed a contract with Babe Ruth League Inc. that will bring the national tournament to Pine Bluff. This will mark the sixth time a Babe Ruth Baseball World Series has been played in the city and first time since 2003. This turn is unabashedly good and the kind of thing we should encourage.

This tournament is poised to accomplish a number of positive things. It will provide local hotels and restaurants with an influx of new faces. It gives Pine Bluff an opportunity to showcase historic Taylor Field. More important than either of those good reasons, it provides the city with a chance to dispel a little bit of the bad reputation that we’ve allowed to dominate the minds of outsiders.

That’s why it’s especially important to give our visitors a positive experience. Instead of them going back home with tales of theft and break-ins, we need to ensure they return with memories of a friendly, hospitable and safe place.

We’ve already shown that we can do just that. If readers will recall UAPB Homecoming Week last fall, the lighthearted festival atmosphere down on Main Street fully supplanted what was becoming a tradition of disorder. This in itself reflected the well-received Music on Main concert series staged last summer.

In short, we need to internalize the mantra of the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Our challenge is not to build the ball field. Rather, our challenge is to build a safe and attractive atmosphere that motivates folks to give us a chance.

All of this goes to themes we’ve repeated many times in these pages: Either we control the dominant narrative or others will do it for us; We must do things for ourselves instead of waiting for white knights to come save us; We must give outsiders good reason to trust us; we must learn from mistakes and foster system-level positive changes.

As to the narrative, we know this peril all too well. For the most part, when Pine Bluff makes the evening news it’s because something terrible happened to somebody. Ours is almost the same lot as the people of our northern neighbor community, Sweet Home. The only time Sweet Home ever makes the news is to show which church the tornado flattened. The only time Pine Bluff makes the news, either the coroner or the fire department is in the frame. It shouldn’t be that way.

To this point, we need to do for ourselves. That’s just what Jim Hill and his colleagues did with Babe Ruth. We have to plant our own seeds.

We must provide the outside world with obvious signs of vitality and stability. While our murder rate for 2014 is already way too high, overall crime has tracked steeply downward for nearly 16 straight months. We need to build on this trend.

We must learn from the past. We need a good dose of introspection and existential reflection. We need to make deep changes in the fabric of the community. We need to tear down the little personal fiefdoms that have enriched a few while punishing the rest of us. We need to make choices based on good data and rational thought, not just the city council’s ignoble tradition of “well, I just feel…” policymaking.

In short, we need to figure out what Hill and his counterparts did to attract Babe Ruth and apply that same ingenuity to other potential opportunities. We have it within us; we just need to build it.