Closing my eyes, I can still hear the sound of the train blowing behind the Mang Field bleachers as I stood at second base, waiting for the next pitch. The train’s whistles drowned out all chatter between pitches. In the background ducks quacked behind the fence near Lake Taneycomo, trucks raced by with stereos blazing and cheers eminated from the bleachers behind home plate.
Childhood memories forever etched in my soul, Mang Field holds a special place in this Branson native’s heart.
The city of Branson purchased the land Mang Field rested on back in 1917. Back then the field was used for sporting events, especially baseball, but also saw rodeos, carnivals, religious services, and other community gatherings. It was an integral part of the Branson community.
The original wood bleachers were destroyed in the 1927 flood. The city completed concrete bleachers in 1934 to withstand any future floods. Of course, this was before the Table Rock Dam was built in the early 50’s. The original White River flooded its banks before the Dam on numerous occasions. I remember when the White River Motel stood next to Mang Field you could still see the water line from one of the earlier floods.
As a kid I remember my dad taking me and my three brothers to Mang Field in the summer for our tee-ball and baseball games. We would also enjoy softball tournaments with teams like Loyd’s Electric, Long and Hagee, and the Mincy Maulers. Occasionlly Dad would give us permission after the games to stop at Dairy Queen nearby to get a milkshake or Mr. Misty. Branson played their football games in the fall at Mang Field. I remember on rainy nights watching players covered in mud as they battled in the baseball infield, which was part of the football field. I remember buying bubble gum behind the bleachers, talking with friends, and holding hands under a blanket with a girl during my freshman year, tingling with excitement.
Later during my freshman year, I remember being the last player picked for the high school baseball team. That first practice after the selection, I walked into the locker room with the other two freshman who made the team. Coach McDaniels sat with the other players, looked at me and said, “Well lookie here, it’s ol’ Glad to Be Here!” Everyone laughed. I did not.
Back then, while not a fast runner, I was quick, and good at stealing bases. I recall the game Coach put me in as a pinch runner and promptly gave me the steal sign. As a freshman in a varsity game, my nerves were jumping all over my body. I thought I better get a good lead to steal on this guy. I must have been halfway to second when the pitcher promptly picked me off!
I remember helping coach rake the field before practices. Living in the Ozarks, we all know rocks here reproduce like rabbits. Taking a grounder was often an adventure with the rocks. As an infielder, I learned to keep my body in front of the ball and not be afraid to knock the ball down with my body. And, oh yes, always wear a cup!
I remember being at one of my brother’s baseball games, My younger brother Dave would have only about six or seven years old, and was sitting by himself on the top bleacher looking down at the cars driving by. Suddenly a foul ball shot up and straight back and hit him in the back of the head, causing him to almost fall off the bleachers! As he rubbed his head I remember my Dad yelling at him to come sit with him.
I recall at evening softball or baseball games watching the cool misty fog roll off of Taneycomo and bathe the field. The mystical sight of outfielders milling around through the clouds became my own version of Field of Dreams.
I remember watching Rocky II with my friend Phil Copeland, then afterwards borrowing some boxing gloves and heading to Mang Field. While a softball game played in the background, Phil and I pounded the tar out of each other outside the fence, with the Mang Field lights illuminating our battle. One punch from Phil made me see another flash of light as I fell on my back!
Sadly, in the early 2000’s those concrete bleachers that stood for close to 70 years were torn down in the name of progress, but my memories of Mang Field will never be torn down. They are a part of who I am today. Those shared events as a child growing up instilled in me community, competitive spirit and the appreciation of the beauty of my hometown.
I will never forget Mang Field.