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Petaluma steps up the plate for fallen son

Close to $20,000 raised in memory of Trevor Smith, who died at 13 in a traffic accident last June

Pam Smith, mother of Trevor Smith, cuts a ribbon during a dedication ceremony Sunday as her husband Joe Smith, and their two sons look on.

SUMNER FOWLER/ FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 12:16 p.m.

PETALUMA - IIt takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to remember that child, to honor that child, to do something to make sure that child does not pass into the ether of time, becoming an empty shell of a memory. Petaluma is that village and Trevor Smith is that child.

So far as the people who donated were concerned, the lumber, the cement, the welding and masonry, the crane that lifted the scoreboard into place, all that happened in the dead of night, when no one was looking. That warning track dirt, it fell from the sky. The people who donated didn't need their names attached. Not necessary. The village does not have a corporate logo or brand awareness or Director of Sales.

A village shrugs at self-promotion. Yeah, sure, go ahead and make a joke. Tell 'em people in the Federal Witness Protection Program did it. Smith Field was dedicated Sunday afternoon and everyone who spoke at the ceremonies said “Petaluma” did it. It's as if a city of 55,000 had two arms, two legs and an unending amount of Red Bulls flowing through it day and night in the last two months, allowing it to dig and paint and drive and erect and sculpt and staple and pour and frame and ship and cajole and I know I'm leaving out 10 more action verbs.

“Around $10,000,” that's Fred Hilliard's guess on the goods, materials and services that were donated. Hilliard is the vice president of the Petaluma American Little League. That $10,000 is pocket change in the big city and barely worth a mention in polite, gentrified company, unless that's what was spent last night when the Chief Financial Officer took all the big shots out to dinner.

But in Petaluma, applying $10,000 to a Little League baseball field strikes a resonant chord. Baseball fields belong in small towns like snow belongs in the Sierra. This is the town that comes out once a year to throw a parade that celebrates butter and eggs, for criminey sakes. Petaluma may have a moment or two of self-indulgence but any place that champions breakfast ingredients can't think of itself as the snooty elite. Rather, Petaluma goes in the other direction.

“This is a Norman Rockwell painting,” Hilliard said.

And the people in that Norman Rockwell painting take the loss of one its souls right to the marrow. Trevor was only 13 when he lost his life in a traffic accident last June. He was in Little League since he was 6. Trevor was the kind of kid you would want to be your son, your brother, your nephew, your cousin, your teammate. He was the kind of kid you'd want to be around, the kind of kid you would follow as he got older, to see what he made of himself. And what he did for others.

“Trevor loved everybody,” said his mother, Pam. “He had some gift.”

In Small Town America, everybody knows everything about everybody, and everyone knew Trevor like that. The people know that Joe and Pam and their two sons, Dylan and Tyler, are still having some really bad patches. They know that Small Town America sometimes has these weird connections. When Pam was at Novato High School, one of her friends was Chris Cox. Even went with Chris in a group to Europe after their senior year.

Chris is the father of Danny Cox, the Petaluma teenager who was paralyzed in a Lake Tahoe diving mishap in 2010 and died a year later in a traffic accident.

Small Town America reached out to Danny's parents, Maureen McGowan and Chris Cox, as well as their family members, because that's what Small Town America does. This is not a city of millions where lives come and go. This is a city of neighbors and in the last few months the neighbors wondered what they could do to for Pam and Joe and the kids.

The Petaluma Fabulous Women (PFW), as altruistic a group as one could ever meet, conducted a fundraiser. A total of $15,000 was raised in Trevor's name, $5,000 going to a scholarship fund. Another $4,500 was raised Sunday at the first annual Trevor Smith Home Run Derby.

“That money would go to any kid who wanted to play Little League but whose family was having financial difficulties,” said Krista Gawronski, the founding heartbeat of PFW.

As to what to do with the $10,000, the solution soon became apparent. The third diamond in the PALL complex was overgrown, crab grass and clover were everywhere. It would be a nice place to throw hand grenades but not to play baseball.

“ 'Oh no,' the kids would say,” noted Gawronski, “ 'we have to play on that crappy field.' There was no scoreboard. The paint was peeling.”

Two months, $10,000 and countless volunteer hours and donated materials later, the place is pristine. The $6,000 scoreboard is in center field. Sunday it showed “18” for the visitors' run totals and “18” for the home team's run totals, 18 being Trevor's jersey number. New sod. No crab grass. No clover. No gaping chunks of earth to swallow and sprain 8-year-old ankles.

“Even the Pope doesn't get a field,” said Father Michael Culligan, the pastor at St. James, where Trevor went to church.

One day, with the approval of the city, the four willow trees next to the outfield fence will have to be removed and the outfield fence extended. It's only 180 feet now, which is fine for the two lower divisions in Little League but 20 feet shorter than the regulation 200 for upper divisions. Yes, some asphalt sidewalk has to be removed and of course trees will be planted but, really, who in city government is going to have the cold heart to say that can't be done?

Pam and Joe threw out the first pitch, one each to Dylan and Tyler. Voices broke, stumbled and struggled through speeches. Pam thanked everyone for keeping Trevor alive. A bunch of Little Leaguers posed under the new scoreboard. People clapped but didn't scream; the moment didn't fit that.

Pictures of Trevor hung along the first base and third base fencing. T-shirts bearing Trevor's last name and number were given out free of charge to anyone who asked, 300 in total. People milled about. The conversations were quiet. Even the usual pell-mell running of 7-year-olds, like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, was absent.

Walking away from the ceremonies I overheard a woman dressed in blue jeans and a pink T-shirt. I didn't ask her name. It wasn't important.

“Yeah,” she said to another woman, “I'm going to tell my son that when he gets up there (at the plate) now, 'Show Trevor what you got.' Yeah, that's what I'm gonna do.”

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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