Little Fenway a big hit for players and charity

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ESSEX, VT. (AP) - Pat O'Connor loved baseball so much he just had to have his own Fenway Park.

So he built one.

O'Connor focused on the important stuff: the right shade of green for his miniature Green Monster, a Citgo sign to sit just past the left-field wall, baseball-shaped markers in right field to represent the retired jersey numbers of Ted Williams and other Red Sox greats.

His attention to detail paid off _ for the backyard paradise he calls “Little Fenway,” for hundreds of Wiffle Ball players who get to play in it for one weekend every August and for a paralyzed hockey player whose charity is its main beneficiary.

“It started with just planting a seed, and it grew into something a lot bigger than I ever imagined,” said O'Connor. “Each year, it seems to get better and better.”

O’Connor, a 55-year-old IBM manager and father of three, calls himself “a crazy baseball fan.” It’s no coincidence he’s one of a baseball team-sized family of nine children, or that his e-mail address starts with “homerunpat.” He’s been in love with the game since he was 7.

You can guess his favorite movie: “Field of Dreams,” the 1989 Kevin Costner film about an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield after hearing voices.

In 2001, he built Little Fenway on little more than a whim, turning a one-acre parcel behind his house on a dirt road into a replica of Fenway Park, complete with bases, bleachers, an old-fashioned Fenway-style scoreboard, a 12.5-foot-tall Green Monster and a 3-by-3-foot plastic Citgo sign _ it’s not neon _ that looks a lot like the one towering over Kenmore Square.

And of course, there’s the left-field foul pole _ “the Fisk pole” _ and the right-field foul pole _ “the Pesky pole” _ so named for famous home runs by former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and shortstop Johnny Pesky, just like at Fenway.

Little Fenway even has tomato plants in the bullpen, a nod to former Boston pitching coach John Cumberland, who in the 1990s planted tomato plants in the Fenway Park bullpen and had idle pitchers tend them.

All the groundskeeping and organizing means O'Connor isn’t exactly an all-star when it comes to pitching in around the house. That’s OK with his wife, Beth. She’s proud of what O'Connor has done. She just doesn’t get the same thrill about the sports stuff.

“I don’t really get it. I’m not really a sports person, so I don’t have that same feeling that I see other people get when they’re coming and see how much fun they’re having and watch the magic,” she said.

What started as a lark became something more after Sept. 11, 2001. O'Connor hosted a Wiffle Ball tournament to raise money for New York disaster relief after the World Trade Center attacks. It brought in $1,400.

That winter, he picked up “Eleven Seconds,” E.M. Swift’s book about former Boston University hockey player Travis Roy, who was paralyzed from the neck down while playing in his first collegiate game in 1995.

O'Connor had an idea for a charity tournament, and pitched it to the Travis Roy Foundation, a charity that raises money for victims of spinal cord injuries.

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