All these parks, they should be like your children. You can’t pick a favorite.
Forgive Steve Ivey, the director of the City of Huntsville’s Parks & Recreation Department, if he violates that rule just a bit.
Ivey is at Brahan Spring Park’s baseball complex on a sunny Saturday morning for the opening ceremonies of the 2017 youth league season.
For Ivey, Brahan Spring is a source of nostalgia and pride. First of all, it’s just across Drake Ave. from the site of his first job with the city, as a lifeguard. Second, he can remember playing on the fields as a youngster.
Third, he can remember umpiring baseball games at the park. All these kids in replica Major League Baseball uniforms? How about umpiring a game with a future big leaguer. Brahan Spring Park was a launching pad for the career of Jimmy Key, who went from Butler High and Clemson University to 15 years in the major leagues, four times selected as an American League All-Star.
(Across town, they’ll be holding opening ceremonies this weekend at Oak Park, which produced current Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel and Buddy Boshers, who was with the Twins last year.)
There’s something else that Ivey remembers about Brahan Spring Park.
“I think I’m most proud of Brahan Spring because of how we’ve turned it around,” he says. “I can remember when nobody wanted to come here.”
When we added all this stuff, especially the special-needs fields, we got people coming back. I’m so proud of that.”
Now, Brahan Spring (named for former General John Brahan, who served alongside Andrew Jackson) is a versatile, vibrant facility that on a typical summer draws hundreds of visitors.
There are two Miracle League fields, designed for physically and mentally challenged participants, part of a national effort being led by Huntsville’s Johnny Franklin. There are fields for soccer and lacrosse. There are softball fields for senior players. A playground with a splash pad is just to the south of the ballparks, along with beach volleyball courts. Just across First Avenue is the disc golf course, weaving through a forest of pine trees.
“When we added all this stuff, especially the special-needs fields, we got people coming back,” Ivey says. “I’m so proud of that.”
The area will only continue to grow with the dramatic facelift to the Huntsville Aquatic Center and the addition of 11 multi-purpose fields on the site of soon-to-close Huntsville Center for Technology.
What has brought Ivey back to Brahan Spring is the last of five stops on a zig-zagging tour across Huntsville along with Mayor Tommy Battle, City Administrator John Hamilton and James Gossett, a superintendent of the Parks & Recreation Department.
They have been to Cove Park in Hampton Cove, then Mayfair Park in the medical district, down to Bell Mountain Park and up to Lakewood Park before arriving at Brahan Spring.
According to Ivey, baseball registration is over the 1,500 mark while well over 600 kids have signed up for softball this year.
The players and their coaches have queued up a few hundred feet away, down near where Steve Ivey once called balls and strikes for Jimmy Key. It’s all the better to stride past the mayor and his party, chanting their respective teams’ names as they head to the field.
Here come the Braves. Then the SWAT Team. And the Blue Jays, with the loudest chant of all. The Rockies are next. Then the Dodgers and Red Sox, and finally another, smaller collection of Braves.
The theme of the Miracle League fields at Brahan Spring is “anyone can play.” That seemingly everyone is here to play at a park that once felt endangered is itself something of a miracle, and understandably no small point of pride.