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Father and son find common ground in backyard ballpark


FINKSBURG -- Sitting in Section 37 of the left-field bleachers, two things become painfully obvious.

One is that, seeing as how your seat is on the bottom of a hill, you'll have to tilt your head up at a pretty severe angle to see the batter.

And, two, any kind of a liner to the left-field bleachers could be painful. You're sitting in the "short porch," merely 89 feet from home plate.

The scoreboard may read "Twins vs. Braves," but this certainly isn't the Metrodome or Fulton County Stadium. It isn't even Carroll County Stadium.

Welcome to your box seat at Bluebird Stadium . . . smack-dab in the middle of Bill Quinn's backyard here.

Bluebird Stadium is the brainchild of Quinn, a 42-year-old finance administrator, and his 8-year-old son, Tommy, who plays Hampstead youth baseball.

It is named for the birds that used to frequent the area and has played host to everything from birthday party baseball to Memorial Day family triple-headers.

Nary a detail has been missed, from the concession stand price list (though the only real concession stand is Mom) to the bullpens in center field to the home run distances printed on the outfield fences (ranging from 89 feet in straightaway left to 152 down the right-field line.)

"We even taped 'The Star-Spangled Banner' to play before games," said Kathy Quinn, a 44-year-old preschool teacher.

The stadium is the dream of every kid who has played Little League. The few children who live in the neighborhood can't seem to get enough of it.

"I love it," said neighbor Brendon Murphy. "It's just awesome. It has everything a real baseball stadium would have, except a lot of stands."

He can thank Tommy for that.

Before he and his father erected the stadium, the eight-seat bleacher section and scoreboard in their 2-acre yard, the young Quinn spent time researching features of the storied ballparks. For instance, he said that center field was modeled after old Comiskey Park in Chicago.

L Tommy seems quite happy with the creation he's helped build.

"It's turned out pretty good," he said, "with the exception of the fences. They fall down a lot."

The crude fences, made of scrap lumber and standing maybe a foot tall, were put up by Dad when Tommy's friends kept losing balls in the sticker bushes -- though Tommy likes to think it was also because of the sharp increase in ground-rule doubles.

Usually playing one-on-one, father against son, with "ghost runners" on base, the wall has proven invaluable in slowing the rate of lost-ball delays.

Bill Quinn said he enjoys putting up the fences, chalking up the base paths and carving names of the big-league teams onto wooden plaques for the hand-operated scoreboard. So far, he's carved out 12.

"It would have been more, but I ran out of half-inch plywood," said Bill. "We've thought about installing lights and a backstop, but this is about as far as it's going to go unless we hit the Lotto."

The elder Quinn takes great pride in his pet project. Kathy says her husband is living out a childhood fantasy.

"I think what Bill did was make a mental note of everything he thought was neat when he was a kid," she said. "He took all that and put it into this stadium."

Tommy spends several hours every day on the field, and younger sister Coralee, now involved in Hampstead's youth softball program, may follow in his footsteps. Kathy says her son stays in constant motion, either playing a real game or fantasizing one by pitching or swinging at air.

On holidays or when relatives come to visit, Tommy prints up tickets and sells them to his grandparents for a nickel apiece. He even prints rosters.

"He spends a lot of time and energy around the field," said his father. "Then again, I'd rather see him doing that than doing a lot of other things that kids are doing these days."

Even the family dog gets in on the action.

"We call it a "dog-rule double,' " Tommy said. "If the ball hits the dog, then it's a double."

Baseball isn't the only game played in the Quinn's backyard. In the winter, the stadium becomes multipurpose as Tommy and friends use it for football.

There's even a miniature 18-hole golf course on the other side of the yard, complete with bunkers.

But it's baseball that is the heart and soul of this ball yard. It's what has united father and son in a passion for their fantasy park and the grand old game.

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