Many folks around the Franklin and Rocky Grove area remember Miller-Sibley Park as a gathering place for friends, family and more. A sanctuary, if you will, where children can meet up after school or, on a sunny day, to pick up a game of wiffle ball, watch little league or softball games, or just hang out and be a kid. If you ask any adult about their days in the park as a kid, their faces light up as they share anecdotes of what it was like to create life-long memories in a simple park in the heart of Rocky Grove.
Much has changed since those times. The park filled will baseball fields and playgrounds had nearly deteriorated into an area that was unable to host gatherings of any kind and the little league field was playable, but not in the shape that many had remembered.
"Miller-Sibley was kind of a forgotten thing up here," Franklin Little League President Bridget Wood said. "When we were growing up, this place would be packed. But, about six years ago, my kid would play up here and I would just think of how terrible it was. So, we decided it was time to fix it."
That was about the time the Dye family struck gold in a car. Yes, a car.
Many might have already heard about the fabled "Clemente Car." This car, acquired by Franklin native Randy Dye, was the same car Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente received after earning the title of Most Valuable Player in the 1971 World Series. Dye purchased the 1972 Special Edition 440 Magnum Dodge Charger. It was around that time that Randy's brother, Jeff, contacted him about a fundraising opportunty.
Jeff Dye, a board member of the Franklin Little League, sought the help of his eldest brother to bring the car back home to the Franklin area, which in turn would play a part in raising funds to renovate the depleted field at Miller-Sibley.
"We got to talking and thought, you know what? I bet you we could raise $30,000," Jeff Dye said. "For about three months, we put on a bunch of real cool activities and fundraisers."
Dye, along with volunteers, ran around to local businesses trying to sell tickets to a showing of the car at Franklin High School. Dye estimated that he and the volunteers sold roughly 750 tickets, which in Dye's words is an "awfully big pull for an area like this." With the ticket proceeds, along with multiple donations, Dye and the Little League raised around $20,000. That's where Pirates Charities comes into the picture.
"I get a phone call one day from a woman who worked for Pirates Charities." Dye said. "I proceeded to tell her what we were doing and she said she heard about it on the radio and said she wanted to be involved."
Pirates Charities wrote out a grant for the Franklin Little League for $10,000, bringing Dye's total to around $30,000. This money was more than enough to renovate the baseball field and then some. Dye said he would like to start renovating in spots around the entire Miller-Sibley Park with the extra money after already replacing fences in the neighboring softball field.
"People are awesome," Dye said of the way the community came together to help. "That's why I moved back here. I lived in Florida for 18 years, but I moved back here to raise my children because this is a great place to raise kids."
The funds raised allowed the Franklin Little League field to replace the entire fence with new poles and concrete bases, new fence caps in the outfield, protective covering for the bleachers with shaded cover and completely renovated bathrooms to name a few.
The renovations, countless efforts from volunteers all culminated when the Dye family dedicated the Little League field to the first Franklin Little League President and Dye's grandfather William Carl "Walt" Davis. The league held a ceremony prior to an Wednesday night's Little League All-Star game that included an appearance from the Pirate Parrot.
"My grandfather taught me a lot of things," Dye said when asked what this day meant. "But, one big thing was giving back and helping others.
"I would like to thank the town for helping us do this," Dye added. "We put a slogan out there, 'community for a cause', and the community came through."
"It doesn't mean just baseball," Wood said when asked what 'community for a cause' means to her. "It means a place for families and kids to come up here and enjoy a day and an evening without having to drive hours away. It's just about a safe place that we can bring our families to. That's what we're trying to do here.
"I'm a teacher at the high school," Wood added. "And we can see kids go down one path or the other. I can see these kids with these morals choose the right path because of the background and leadership they got from Miller-Sibley."
Dye, Wood and the rest of the Little League community will continue efforts to bring Miller-Sibley back to the way it was.
"I'd like to get it back to 10 teams," Dye said of his vision for Franklin Little League. "We've got an uphill battle with travel ball and other factors, but it's a worthy fight.
"A lot of this wouldn't have happened without the core group of (volunteers)," Dawn Parry, a Franklin Little League board member said. "We love our community, we love out kids and we love baseball."