Baseball has always been big in Five Points; in On the Road, Jack Kerouac described going to a game on Welton Street one night among "all humanity, the lot." That game was on a field renamed Sonny Lawson Park in 1972, and it's still home to one of the most unusual softball fields in Denver: right on the edge of downtown; surrounded by a high, padlocked fence for the past 25 years; and, for the past two summers, the site of one of the town's most inspiring sporting events: Homeless Diamond.
But real estate broker Joe Carabello, who'd organized the Tuesday morning softball games for Denver's homeless population, had worried that play wouldn't continue this year.
That's because Denver Parks and Recreation decided to give Sonny Lawson a major overhaul -- cheered on by a unique community group that's working on a new vision for the area, which includes many of the city's homeless shelters as well as some of its oldest residences. For starters, neighbors wanted that high fence -- which had protected players from boozy fans, and vice versa -- at least partially removed, so more of the park was accessible. But the work was going so slowly that Carabello was concerned he wouldn't be able to book the field this year.
Carabello, who plays senior league softball, thought of creating Homeless Diamond during his daily commute downtown. "I work down here," he explained back in 2011, the first year of the program. "I have roots down here. I grew up on Capitol Hill and I always ride my bike or drive my car down Park Avenue and see the ballfield empty, and then see all the idle homeless standing around. It just inspired me to maybe give them a day a week to have some fun and just chill."
So he called Parks and Rec to rent the field on Tuesday mornings, sent an e-mail to the managers of the sixty-plus teams in the Colorado Senior Softball Association asking for donations of extra equipment, and then started recruiting players. The nearby Denver Rescue Mission and St. Francis Center provided a large number of participants; Carabello also walked the neighborhood around Sonny Lawson, handing out softballs with the time, day and location of the games written on them.
"Will it make a difference in anybody's life?" Carabello asked, then answered. "Probably not. But it gives them a break for a morning each week. Maybe it will re-energize them or somehow have a positive bearing on their life. We're not too concerned with that. We're just here to put the program on and hope people show up to play."
Enough showed up the first season that Carabello brought the game back again last year, when it was again a hit. As work continued on the field earlier this year, he considered moving Homeless Diamond to another park -- but this is where the majority of his players are.
Then, finally, the city announced that Sonny Lawson will reopen on Monday, July 1. And so next Tuesday morning, Carabello will be out on Sonny Lawson Park, hoping to field two full teams for the third round of Homeless Diamond.
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