A once-nameless field in Berkeley will now honor one woman’s achievement in a local softball league, with the approval last week by the City Council to name the Codornices Park field the “Jane Hammond Field.”
Bestselling Berkeley author Michael Lewis, whose daughter plays for the Albany Berkeley Girls Softball League (ABGSL), and who coaches one of its teams, is among the many who are delighted with the decision. Lewis said Hammond, who has devoted 25 years to the league to date, brings a persuasiveness to recruiting and retaining players from many different backgrounds, with graduates of her program going on to receive college athletic scholarships.
“It’s fair to say that the players my kids play with have overlapped from other schools and crowds that otherwise we wouldn’t have been with,” Lewis said. “Communities are stitched together by people like her, and it’s nice just to acknowledge all the works she’s done.”
Hammond, who is British and moved to Berkeley in 1988, is one of the earliest volunteers and board members of the ABGSL. While also running a successful event-planning business, she has spent the past 20 years as the league’s “micro-division” commissioner. Hammond was instrumental in creating the micro-division in 1996 to give first-graders an entryway into softball, instilling a love for the game in the youngest players in the league. The micro-division now accepts kindergarteners, and meets every Saturday from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. at the former Codornices Park field in North Berkeley.
The ABGSL began working on a petition to name the field after Hammond more than a year ago. The petition, which was presented to the Berkeley Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department, as well as the Council, eventually collected 554 signatures. According to the ABGSL President Drew Steckler, the idea was brought to the board of directors last fall, and was met with “immediate excitement.” After that, “it just became a matter of lining everything up and finding the political support in our community, which was incredibly easy,” he said. The proposal was easily approved by Parks and Waterfront on April 8, and recommended to Council.
“That softball field is really Jane’s field,” said Steckler. Hammond is intricately involved in activities on the field every week with her micro-division, which was the major impetus in advocating for the field naming, he said.
Over her storied tenure, Hammond has also expanded ABGSL to three divisions from two (Older, Middle, Younger), and successfully lobbied to lower the age eligibility for girls’ softball, from second graders to kindergarteners.
“Her overall aim has always been to afford the children of our community, regardless of age, neighborhood, household income, prior experience or athletic talent, the chance to learn new skills, forge new friendships, set and pursue and achieve new goals, promote their good health, and have good, clean fun while doing all that,” the petition stated speaking of Hammond. “She is one of a handful of people in Berkeley who have made a monumentally positive impact in the area of youth recreation —an impact that will endure for generations.”
Hammond herself — reached via email while she was at the airport on her way to London — said she was thrilled with the decision. “My reaction [is] an amazing feeling of honor, joy, and I suppose recognition for all those years, though I have to say they just flew by,” she said. “My children’s lives were changed forever by playing in this league, and if in any way I have helped to bring that feeling to the hundreds of families that I have worked with, then that is thanks enough.”
“ABGSL is an extraordinary organization and epitomizes all of the finest values in children’s sports,” she continued. “It has been a privilege to be on the board for the last 25 years and fortunately there are no term limits so I hope to be here as the Micro Commissioner for another decade or two.”
Lewis made his first ever appearance at a Berkeley City Council meeting last Tuesday (“there’s material for a television show there,” he joked to Berkeleyside) to praise Hammond. The author’s 16-year-old daughter used to play for the league, and he now coaches his 13-year old daughter’s team, a position he attributes to Hammond’s diligence in the league.
“She was out there in the park, and she trapped me and persuaded me that I should coach, and I got the bug,” he said. “It’s been a huge commitment and a fantastic one in the way that it’s integrated us into the community.”
While the petition ultimately needed (and received) a 2/3 majority to pass, Lewis said he was all for “just going out in the dead of night and hanging a sign.” “If it was up to me, I would have just been ninja-like in the park,” he said.
Asked about the significance of the field’s new name to the community, Lewis joked: “Every time people take their dogs out to crap in the park, they’ll think of Jane Hammond!” But he continued: “They’ll say, ‘Who’s Jane Hammond?’ And we’ll say, she’s the reason that we’re a real force in softball.”
Hammond herself seemed content with simply continuing her work on her newly minted field. “I look forward to working with lots more little athletes in training,” she said. “And how lovely it will be for me to be able to go and visit my very own field in years to come.”
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Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.