Sonny Lawson Park, in the 2300 block between California and Welton streets, is home to Denver's most famous ballpark: Sonny Lawson Field. Jack Kerouac watched baseball games here, and the Negro League played in the park before the game was integrated. The field was named after Sonny Lawson, the first black pharmacist in Five Points, in 1972. By the ’80s, the area had become so rowdy that the field was fenced off after a ball team of politicos and journalists got in a fracas with players on the nearby basketball court.
Although Denver Parks and Recreation completed a major renovation of the park several years ago, the fence remains up. And every Tuesday morning of the past five summers, real-estate broker Joe Carabello would unlock the gate and set up the field for his Homeless Diamond, a softball league whose players were homeless, recruited from the streets and nearby shelters. Carabello got the idea of setting up the league when he would travel around the area and see the homeless just hanging out; he remembered what baseball games meant to him when he was a kid growing up in Denver.
His players remembered, too. His Homeless Diamond was a hit not only with team members, but with volunteers and spectators, too, and got raves around the country, inspiring spinoffs.
But this morning, the field remains locked: Carabello has had to call off the season because of personal issues. Still, that fenced-off expanse of green holds plenty of promise...and many memories.
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Here's what Kerouac wrote about the area in On the Road.
Down at 23rd and Welton a softball game was going on under the floodlights which also illuminated the gas tank. A great eager crowd roared at every play. The strange young heroes of all kinds, white, colored, Mexican, pure Indian, were on the field, performing with heart-breaking seriousness. Just sandlot kids in uniform....Near me sat an old Negro who apparently watched the games every night. Next to him was an old white bum, then a Mexican family, then some girls, some boys — all humanity, the lot.
Thanks for the memories, Joe.