Baseball on a Tennessee Dairy Farm is a True Field of Dreams
At the Barnyard in Columbia, young baseball players have the unique opportunity to practice America’s favorite pastime on a working dairy farm.
Roger Toombs, who owns the 400-acre farm with his brother, decided to build a baseball field on the farm just over 15 years ago after struggling to reserve a local practice field for his son’s team. What began as a solution to a problem has evolved into a beloved destination for dozens of area ballplayers.
“We had this little spot out here where we used to grow corn, and we really weren’t doing a whole lot with it,” Toombs says. “It’s only about an acre, but I figured it could work as a baseball field. I made a little backstop from some old fence panels, and my son’s team started practicing out here in the spring of 2000. It’s been a practice field ever since.”
From home plate, the Barnyard field measures 190 feet to right field, 200 feet to center field and 150 to 160 feet to left field. There’s also a batting cage to the right of the first-base line, as well as practice pitching mounds nearby.
Although the field is best suited for the Cal Ripken division, it can also accommodate tee-ball and Babe Ruth division teams. Most recently, it has played host to the Toombs Brothers Bulls team, which were the major league champions of the Maury County Cal Ripken League in 2015 and 2016.
Because the Barnyard sits on a working farm that’s home to about 125 heifers, 120 dairy cattle and 30 beef cattle, it’s only used for practices and scrimmage games. It’s open during the fall and spring baseball seasons, with teams typically practicing once a week before fall games begin, two or three times a week before spring games start, and once or twice a week during the spring season.
Toombs says even though kids don’t get much time to practice before and during the fall ball season, they’re likely to get more experience participating in games than they would in the spring ball season.
“I love the fall because it’s where kids who are really serious about baseball get more playing time than they might in the springtime,” Toombs says. “There are a lot of kids who play other sports in the fall, like football or soccer, so those who choose to play baseball have a lot of opportunities. When spring ball starts, it’s a little more competitive because there are more kids playing.”
Leading the League
In his more than 15 years of coaching baseball, Toombs has focused heavily on pitching, often working one-on-one with each child to help him or her develop the skills and techniques required to successfully pitch to a batter.
“It’s no fun to play ball if you’re walking people all the time,” Toombs says. “You want to throw strikes – that way, the other team can hit the ball and your defense can catch the ball and make plays. That’s called baseball. I put a lot of emphasis on pitching because it just makes the game more interesting and entertaining for everyone.”
But baseball is more than just a game to Toombs. In addition to serving as a fun pastime, he believes baseball can teach children valuable lessons that will serve them for years to come, and he says that’s the main reason he enjoys coaching.
“I only have these kids for a few months,” Toombs says. “In our short time together, I want to try to teach them things that might help them in the future.”
As a coach, Toombs works to instill respect in his players, requiring them to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” – or else they run laps – and he encourages them to respect their parents, teachers and other authority figures. He also encourages his team to hustle and have a good attitude, as those are “two things everyone can do,” he says. He wants his players to understand mistakes are inevitable, but “you can’t let the mistakes completely destroy you.” Instead, he urges his team to learn from their errors and move forward.
“Baseball is a great tool for teaching kids how to deal with failure,” Toombs says. “They have to learn that just because they fail, they aren’t a failure – you can still be a winner and fail. This game teaches them not to give up.”