BRATTLEBORO -- Brownlow Towle, or "Brownie," as he is known to anyone who has stepped up to the plate while he was calling balls and strikes in the Brattleboro men's softball league, has been waiting a long time to pick up stones off of the town's newest field.
In the more than 40 years Towle, 72, has been involved with the town's league -- first as a player, then as a board member, and now as an umpire -- he always knew the town would one day open an additional field.
Field space has always been at a premium in Brattleboro, where the land is farmed or tends to be rocky and steep. So way back in 1985 when Brattleboro Area Softball Association, or BASA, began collecting players' fees, Towle said it was with the idea that one day he would be able to reach down and pick up stray pieces of gravel off of the new field on a rainy afternoon before a game.
Which is what he was doing one day this week.
BASA is an independent organization that rents field space from the town.
When Town Meeting Representatives approved the purchase of the West River land Towle was quickly named to the committee that would help develop land. And when it came time to begin investing money in the project BASA was able to write a $125,000 check out of the account the group had been building up all of these years.
Towle went to high school in Montpelier, and he moved to Brattleboro in 1969. He played his first softball game in Brattleboro the next year in the summer of 1970. From the start he became closely involved with the league. In 1976 he helped raise the money to bring lights to the upper field and during that time he put in countless hours, with many others, to level and develop the upper field at Living Memorial Park.
As the league grew in popularity players would go before the Selectboard each year asking for support, and always, as the budget was being developed, Towle said the board members would respectfully tell him and the others that there was not enough taxpayer money available to help out the league.
In the early 1980s BASA decided to start collecting players' fees. And for each payment the town requested for field use, BASA would add an additional $5 which was put away for future use.
Some of the money was used every year, but as the league grew, BASA began to stockpile a pretty healthy account, money which Towle says was earmarked for a new facility.
Over the years there were a number of initiatives to build a new field in Brattleboro. A study was done to see if an additional field could be built at Living Memorial Park, but it proved to be unfeasible.
There was a Representative Town Meeting vote to purchase a new filed that was turned down, and investigations into other alternative sites that never panned out.
But once the West River site became a possibility, BASA and Towle got behind it, with Towle knowing that all of those years of collecting fees was going to pay off once the deal was finalized. Then, when Town Meeting Reps approved the land deal in 2008, the league was finally ready to put all of the money to good use.
Towle looked out across the new field one afternoon this week. There is still work to be done and Towle says he wants the field to really "wow" people, though the West River, Interstate 91 bridge and beautiful green grass is a good start.
As those players' fees piled up Towle hoped he would one day be able to calls balls and strikes behind home plate at a new field.
"This is for all of the thousands of players we've had over all these years," he said. "It's for everyone who has contributed, and was patient. It's pretty nice. I think it's a beautiful place to come out and watch a game."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.