Van Buren – The city of Van Buren was in dire need of help to build the Field of Dreams complex in the 1990s.
When John Riggs was elected mayor in 1995, he turned to Alan Swim.
Swim, being an avid fan of baseball, knew the value of a good reliever. He had just sold his office supply business, Paper Clip, and was really deciding what he could do next.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my future,” Swim said. “(Riggs) called me and asked if I was ready to take over the field of dreams. It had run into a brick wall. It was a long way off from completion.”
At present only the original four areas were constructed at the entrance to the complex.
Swim stepped in and guided the completion of the complex with the addition of seven more fields, including two full-sized baseball diamonds. Van Buren Pointers still play on campus in one of the state’s most picturesque high school parks, overlooking the beautiful fringes of Vista Hills above Lee Creek.
“People told us at the time that we had a major facility in the state,” Swim said.
Swim was instrumental in bringing four Youth World Series to the Field of Dreams complex, hosting the 2004 13-Year-Old World Series, the 2007 12-Year-Old Babe Ruth World Series and the 13-to-15-Year-Old Babe. Ruth World Series in both 2008 and 2012.
“We had an army of volunteers for those World Series,” Swim said. “We had over 300 volunteers who helped each of them. We were very proud of our city at the time. If a group of young businessmen and women would start it again I would give anything. I have boxes with me. Notes taken by us and sponsors that we had and how we raised the money. I would love to give that to someone.”
In 2008, Swim, better known as Big Al, received the Lefty Gomez Volunteer of the Year Award by the Babe Ruth Baseball Organization as the top volunteer in the country.
A press release by Babe Ruth Baseball read, Swim “is most recognized for his leadership role in bringing the Babe Ruth World Series to Van Buren. Under his leadership, Van Buren hosted several successful Babe Ruth World Series The Babe Ruth Headquarters was so astonished by its community pride and achievements that Van Buren now serves as a training ground for future World Series hosts.”
In 2014, Swim was inducted into the Southwest Regional Babe Ruth Hall of Fame. In 2017, she was inducted into the Babe Ruth International Hall of Fame.
“It just blows me away,” Swim said, borrowing lyrics from a John Connelly song. “I am just a common man who drives a common van.”
Swim ran the Field of Dream Complex from 1996 to 2012, organizing tournaments, preparing the fields and providing whatever other maintenance was required.
“The 17 years I worked there were the greatest of my life,” Swim said. “If you love kids and you love baseball, how can this get better than working on ball fields. This is as good as it gets.”
Swim coached American Legion Baseball for 14 years, including Fort Smith from 1981 to 1988 for Coca-Cola and from 1990 to 1995 for Paper Clip, the Legion team for Crawford County.
Their Coca-Cola teams won four district tournaments out of their eight years and advanced to the State American Legion tournament.
American Legion Baseball was at its peak at Fort Smith at the time, with Kerwin and Ernest R. Coleman (ERC) was also sponsoring the top teams.
“We won the district tournament four years in a row and beat the other four by one run in the finals,” Swim said. “Any one of the three could have won the state tournament any year. They were so good.”
Swim recalls taking his Coca-Cola team to Fayetteville one season and before the game the home plate umpire explained to the coaches during a pre-game meeting at the plate what his strike zone was.
“So, I said, ‘It looks like we’re not going to play by the rules’, and he didn’t like it,” Swim said. “No, I didn’t get a call from that game.”
Having coached grassroots baseball, Swim, like many old-timers, does not like the direction of professional baseball these days.
“I watch Pro Ball, and it drives me crazy,” Swim said. “They can’t split, they don’t hit their cutoff man, they overslide bases, they change pitchers about every five batters. The good old days of tough, hard baseball are gone.”
Then there are the personal protective equipment that players now use when running base.
“What are those? Oven mitts,” said Swim. “If I were playing these days, I’d get a 24-inch-long oven mitt. How often are you safe or out of an inch.”
Last spring, Swim and some old friends checked off a bucket-list item when they rented the farmhouse, fields, and lights at the original Field of Dreams in Diersville, Iowa, the location used for the Kevin Costner film. same name.
“At 7 that night, it was 38 degrees and we went outside and played baseball,” Swim said. “It was so much fun. We were at the farmhouse that night. They had a Field of Dreams movie so you could walk around and touch things you see on TV. It’s incredibly cool.”
Swim was the name of America’s entertainment for four years at one point with a sports memorabilia shop, mostly baseball, a soda fountain and sandwich shop on Main Street in nearby Van Buren.
“It was clean,” said Swim. “I had people tell me we were with Cooperstown as a memento. I went to Cooperstown a few years later, and they were wrong. It’s awesome. I love the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. It’s just as similar It’s awesome. I’m just a baseball nut.”
Swim recently returned to coaching, tutoring his grandson, Carson Curd, who is currently 13, when he was 8 to 11 years old. His daughter, Kelly, is married to Brian Curd, who played shortstop for Southside and ERC.
“It was more than cool, it was wonderful,” Swim said. “That whole group was amazing to coach. That group was from Alma, except for one from the Ozarks.”
Health issues, however, have forced Swim to quit coaching. He has suffered two fatal heat strokes, has type 2 diabetes that requires four injections per day, has been diagnosed with neuropathy and Parkinson’s disease and most recently with intermittent arthritis.
“Every day is a blessing,” said Swim. “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I am thankful for is God. People tell me I’m tough. I’m not strict, I’m just blessed. My grandchildren keep me walking. I go to every event.” wants to see me.”
Last month, Swim by Jerry Glydwell and the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club was asked to throw the first pitch for the AA American Legion State Baseball Tournament at the restored historic Hunts Park.
“I didn’t know it, but they had my 1985 team to join me in,” Swim said. “I was very surprised by it. That team finished No. 1 in the state. They went with me to the mound, I threw the pitch, and we prayed there on the pitcher’s mound while both teams stayed respectively. Baseline. Then we went to eat. Went to Calico County to go to Calico County. It was one of the best nights of my life because I didn’t know she was going to be there.”
That game featured Van Buren against Fort Smith, two cities Swim had represented during his US Army coaching career.
While he has left coaching, and between watching his grandchildren play, Swim has embarked on a new project of finding and donning baseball gloves. Last year, he donated around 100 and now he has another 120 which he plans to donate soon.
“I give them to underprivileged children,” said Swim. “The expressions on the faces of the child and the faces of their parents are priceless, and it warms my heart. This is my new mission.”