If you build it, he will come
Local resident enjoys very own Field of Dreams in backyard

He's heard all the jokes before. It sort of comes with the territory when you build a full-size baseball field in your backyard.

But for the record, Dacula resident Bob Cole has never heard voices that whisper above the wind, making ambiguous statements like "go the distance" or "ease his pain."

He's never had Shoeless Joe Jackson show up in his backyard or even Ray Liotta for that matter. And Moonlight Graham still hasn't gotten that chance to bat in a major league game.

But that doesn't mean what he has in his backyard isn't a field of dreams. Especially for the hundreds of local children who have gotten to take batting practice, field ground balls and play in summer-league games on his property.

"We've had some good times out there," Cole said. "It's been an awesome time in our lives."

The concept started more than five years ago.

Cole was a travel league baseball coach who was getting worn down with trying to find places for his Georgia Tiger team to practice.

When he and his family were looking to move out of Lawrenceville, Cole made it a point of trying to find substantial property.

"We always wanted some land," Cole said, "and that was as good a time as any to buy property. So we looked for a property to put a baseball field on."

The location ended up being a five-acre lot in Dacula, off Old Peachtree Road.

And once the property was found, that's when the real work began.

"We didn't really understand how much rock was out there," Cole said with a laugh. "We did more than our fair share of blasting ... it was a bigger project than we thought it was going to be."

Thankfully Cole had a lot of help building the field, from little league parents to the players themselves. One of those players was a then 13-year-old Mitch Rider, who recently was named the Daily Post Player of the Year after his senior season at North Gwinnett.

"It took several months to build," Rider said. "And we made the holes for the posts in the fence. We concentrated on things like that. And we sodded the whole infield."

The Field of Dreams feel was never too far away either, especially one day when the dugouts were being built.

"It was funny," Cole said. "A plane flew over us and dropped corn seed on the field."

But alas, Cole wasn't planning on planting any corn in his backyard.

And when the field was finally complete, six months after construction began, Cole had himself a real-life baseball diamond named "Tiger Town."

"The whole field didn't cost me that much personally," Cole said. "I had a lot of people helping me out ... and that's the thing about sports, there are a lot of very generous people who are willing to give time and money to promote it."

People like Rider, who has since outgrown the dimensions of the field but still has fond memories of his days in the backyard.

"I loved it," said Rider, who still plays on a travel ball team coached by Cole. "I've know Coach Bob forever. He held me as a baby. So being able to come over to his house like that, being able to do what I love doing every day. It was great."

Rider wasn't the only high school star that got his start at "Tiger Town." Rider's North Gwinnett teammate Justin Rahm has played on the field, so has Greater Atlanta Christian's Taylor Wood, Dacula's Travis Blackburn and the Collins Hill duo of

Justice French and Daniel Warzon.

But the person who has undoubtedly gotten the most benefit of the backyard diamond is Cole's son, Bobby, who hit .500 as a sophomore for Hebron and recently completed a junior year in which he led the county with a .642 average.

"I think it helped him a lot," Cole said of his son. "He's a left-handed hitter and the right-field fence was shorter, I think it was around 285. So it was a reachable distance. But he wanted to be like everybody else and hit it over the (35-foot-high) net in left field. So that taught him to go (opposite field) and he got pretty strong going to both fields."

With all of his former little leaguers growing up and going to college, Cole isn't sure how much longer the diamond is going to be used. If at all.

"There's a subdivision that's come in right behind us," he said. "It's come right up to our property, so it might be time for it to come to an end."

If that happens, Cole isn't sure what he'll do with the field. He might leave it the way it is and keep the diamond operable, or he might turn to a new hobby.

"I'm not sure," he said. "My long-term thought for it was one day, after the last ball had been thrown, to make it just a nice field to sit on my porch and look at. And it would look especially good with some horses on it."

It might look so good in fact that Cole will have to assure visitors: "No, this isn't heaven. It's Dacula."