Fathers, Sons, and Baseball

Opening Day in Lewisboro

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – April 30 was Opening Day for the 50th year of the Lewisboro Baseball Association (LBA), and it was one for the ages. Like 27 up and 27 down, it was perfect.

It truly was as if we were all dipped in magical waters, for a couple of majestic hours, the trials and travails of the last two years were as if they never happened. The division and acrimony we’ve seen over that time surrendered to unity, friendship, and neighborly love and gratitude. The first Opening Day since 2019 once again brought together the community in a shared love of the game and our town. The past had been erased and all that existed was this moment in time and ball games to be played.

The restored field along with new dugouts, improved batting cages, and sound system, once again drew people to the seats in stands along the third baseline. Kids that once played on this field were back now as parents to watch their children play a game that has no end and with lines that reach to eternity.

Robert Frost wrote he never felt more at home in America than when watching baseball in a park or sandlot. Well, you can come home again and so did the Vouté family, which now resides in Rhode Island.

“I decided this morning to say a prayer as my dad used to every morning,” said Kate Vouté Wright. “While I was praying, I heard the incessant voice of my Uncle Billy interrupting, saying that he and Babe Ruth will be attending the opening ceremony and dedication today at the ballpark.”

Her uncle is buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, where Babe Ruth lies. Her father, Arthur J. Vouté, was a deeply religious man.

She was here with the rest of her family, her mom Rosanne, sister Aimée, brother Chip, and nephew Hudson. The Vouté Family, which had lived in South Salem for over 50 years, was back, to honor their late patriarch, and see the new field which had been improved through their $100,000 donation in his name.

The rotted wooden dugouts torn down and concrete erected in their place. The batting cage turf replaced, new mounds, and other improvements. Like baseball itself, the Lewisboro Town Park field is a part of our town’s past, but more importantly our future. It reminds us all of what is good and pure.

A bronze plaque is ground into the back of each dugout with a picture of Arthur J. Vouté, with the following inscription, “Arthur’s generous spirit is commemorated in these dugouts by his family, to share the joy and legacy of his life with the children and families of the town of Lewisboro.”

The beautiful plaques were made by the same company that makes the plaques for Monument Park at Yankee stadium.

It was clear standing with Art’s son, Chip, who was overcome with emotion staring at the bronze plaques, that the memories he had here with his father were so thick, nothing could brush them away from his face.

“My dad pitched to me for hours on this field. He had pinpoint precision in his pitches.” Arthur J. Vouté (pronounced Voo-tay) was a minor league pitcher who tried out for the New York Yankees. Akin to Moonlight Graham who never got to hit in the majors, Arthur never got to pitch in the majors. Many people’s lives would have been affected if that try out went differently. One wonders if Mr. Vouté would say that, “If I only got to be an attorney for a day, now that would be a tragedy.”

“These bronze plaques are also a connection to our family’s past in France,” said Aimée Vouté Lord, Art’s daughter. The Vouté family traces their ancestry back to France, and the family actually worked on the Statue of Liberty, which is bronze, and was given to the United States by France in 1884.

“The dugouts and the field look amazing. When I was a kid, there were no stands, no concession stand, not much around the field. My parents would sit on the grass hill and watch my games, though my dad would be off walking our dogs at Ward Pound Ridge,” Chip said. Maybe watching from the sidelines, longing to be back on the mound was just too much.

“Lewisboro is a special place. It isn’t known by a lot of people. Our family had a great time growing up here. It’s a real diamond in the rough,” said Arthur’s son.

The color guard presented by Vista Troop 101 Scouts Ty Graygor, Max Wasserman, and Jackson Wiles, and by Lewisboro Troop 1 Scout Spencer Hadlock officially kicked off the day. The parade of teams marched through the split guard like World Series Champions through the Canyon of Heroes. There were wide smiles across the faces of young players and grizzled coaches on a picture-perfect day with a sky so blue it almost hurt.

The invocation could have only been given by one reverend in town, South Salem Presbyterian’s Mark Salmon, maybe the greatest Yankee fan in town, but undoubtedly a huge fan of the game. He drove in with his car painted in Yankees and parked it at the entrance of the field. One would imagine that this was when the Babe, and Billy and Arthur Vouté made their entrance as the minister said these words:

“OUR CREATOR, we ask Your blessing on the games that will be played on these fields. Give each one the courage to play these games in a manner which by words and actions will be pleasing to You and each of us. Let us enter into competition in a spirit of sportsmanship and with a respect for the members of the opposing teams. We ask your blessing and protection on the player, coaches, umpires, parents, and the Lewisboro community for their support. Amen.”

They were once again back in the ballpark, experiencing the sights and sounds of the game. The Babe must have loved the car, and the plaques that look just like the one in Yankee stadium with his face and name on it.

Next was the national anthem performed by John Jay High School freshman Melissa Falcone on an electric guitar that would have made Jimi Hendrix proud, followed by recognition and awarding of plaques to Carmen Ciccone and Adam Giardina for years of service and dedication to the LBA, and to Dana Mayclim for hers to the town as superintendent of Parks and Recreation. Our new town supervisor, Tony Gonçalves, and Town Board members Andrea Rendo, Rich Sklarin, and Mary Shah were on hand for the festivities, and there was burgers and hot dogs provided and grilled up by Sue Vales of the Horse and Hound.

Arthur’s handball buddy for 30 years and Vouté family friend, 25-year South Salem resident Vern Hayden, read the dedication over the new speakers. The Vouté family is in a league of their own, almost too humble to come on to the field, but came reluctantly to be honored and thanked for their tremendous contribution that will help ensure another 50 years of baseball in Lewisboro.

It was only natural that Arthur’s grandson, Hudson, would throw out the first pitch to his son, Chip, who spent many hours playing catcher on LBA teams growing up. One can only believe that the spirit of Mr. Vouté was right there with his grandson when he threw the ball over the plate and the crowd cheered.

He must have departed with his fellow apparitions after the closing benediction: “OH GOD, we pray again for all those who made this day possible…especially the youth who will play here…enable them to soar like eagles throughout their lives…bless these dugouts and fields and those who will be cheering from the stands. Amen.”

There was some force that pulled me to the ballpark for weeks to work on the place. Myself, my son, and other dads and coaches spent hours weeding, planting, painting, cleaning, fixing, and overseeing the resurrection of our Lewisboro Town Park ball field. On Palm Sunday, LBA President Jim Moreo and I reseeded the wall grass and covered it with straw. We rebuilt it, and people came.

We don’t have cornfields stretching for miles in Lewisboro and certainly not beyond the confines of center field, but beyond the fence stands a sign dedicated to a Favorite Son, a devoted husband and father, a former minor league pitcher, a renowned local attorney, and a South Salem man we can all be proud of, Arthur J. Vouté.

Walking to the outfield grass with the family and to the sign that now hangs below the scoreboard, Arthur J. Vouté Dugouts, there was a feeling of Angels in Outfield.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Lewisboro. I could have sworn it was heaven.

Published May 18, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times.