Goodbye to Heyford Park


John Mills

Last May, BSUK's National Development Manager John Mills was with some colleagues who were tidying and clearing up at Upper Heyford after the decision was made to abandon the facility after almost 15 years because it had become just too dilapidated and dangerous to be used. Afterwards, he wrote this goodbye and thanks for what Heyford had meant to generations of players, parents and coaches.

As a rookie baseball coach and parent I first made the long drive to Heyford in 1997. My two sons were attending a GB summer camp. Coming from a background of outdoor activities, sleeping rough at Heyford was no problem in those days. Everyone used common sense and parents slept on the sports hall floor together with players and coaches. There was great North v South banter and friendly rivalry, with games in the evenings and adventures in the beach volleyball court. Many of the relationships that were forged there still last, were reinforced at the Brighton Final 4 events and North v South Junior All-Star games and continue today within senior baseball teams as old friends meet up to play with and against each other.

As well as fun there was so much learning. A memory comes to mind of one "GB Day" as it was called then. I had three young pitchers from the Halton Pony team taking lessons from Dan Educate. As each young player was coached by Dan, I observed, scribbled pages of notes, made sketches and later tried to reinforce the coaching within the team training. They were learning, and I learned, so much from people like Dan. Watching early BP in the sports hall with Vince Garcia, Ian Smyth, Gary Roberts, Paul Vernon and others taught me almost everything I needed to know about hitting at that time. The youngsters who came up to hit became almost clone-like in the way they stepped into the box and approached each pitch. I can see these "clones" still today and think of how fortunate those youngsters were to have such great coaches and parents willing to support them. At least one of my colleagues, working at Heyford in its last days, was one of those youngsters and is now putting his knowledge and skills back into baseball for new generations of young players.

I suppose as time goes on it is the good things that stick. The dodgy water supply, leaking roof, cold winter days and long tiring journeys home all fade. One summer comes to mind when, after a week-long camp, teams were formed representing Great Britain, England and Scotland. They welcomed a team from Germany and a Welsh team from Cardiff who hastily converted to our game from their format and suddenly we had a weekend tournament which led eventually to a GB Colt team travelling to Indiana the following year to compete in the Pony World Series.

Time took its toll and the battle to keep on top of the failing facility was finally lost. Maybe the home plate from the larger of the baseball fields will find a new home. Whatever, the spirit of Heyford will hopefully live on in the careers of the young men and women who graduated from its special school of baseball and softball. The fields may be greener and smoother and the roof less leaky elsewhere, but I guess if you have played at Heyford you can play anywhere.

Thanks, Heyford, for being so significant in the lives of so many. And thanks to all the baseball and softball volunteers that kept the facility going for so long and contributed to the learning of so many players and coaches.

John Mills



tagged under: facilities, gb baseball, halton, upper heyford

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About John Mills

John Mills

John was the National Development Manager at BaseballSoftballUK responsible for coaching matters in British baseball and softball, until October 2012. He started professional life as a teacher back in the late 60s, and worked in Sheffield, the Bahamas and Cheshire with other employment in Cumbria for the Outward Bound Trust and at various centres in North Wales.  Academically a physical geographer, John’s early teaching revolved around outdoor education. He has taught mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, caving and orienteering, and at one time or another was qualified to lead and instruct in all of these sports.  While working in Nassau, John became heavily involved in SCUBA diving, photography and marine conservation.  John’s involvement in baseball began in 1996 with the formation of the Halton Polecats Baseball Club, which¬†his two sons joined. The Halton club renamed their Runcorn-based baseball diamond as ‘John Mills Ballpark’.

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