Big Al Swaim had a huge impact on the youth of River Valley

VAN BUREN – The city of Van Buren was in dire need of help building the Field of Dreams complex in the 1990s.

When John Riggs was elected mayor in 1995, he turned to Alan Swim.

Being a huge fan of baseball, Swaim knew the value of a good savior. He had just sold his office supply business, Paperclip, and was actually deciding what he might do next.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my future,” Sowaym said. “[Riggs]called me and asked if I would be willing to take over the Field of Dreams. He hit a brick wall. It was a long way to go.”

Only the original four fields were built at the entrance to the complex.

Swaim stepped up and guided the completion of the complex by adding seven more fields, including two full-size diamonds for baseball. The Van Buren Pointers still play on the complex in one of the state’s most picturesque high school parks with stunning views of the Vista Hills high above Lee Creek overlooking it.

“People told us at the time that we had the first facility in the state,” Sweem said.

Swaim has been instrumental in bringing four World Youth Championships to the Field of Dreams complex, hosting the 2004 13-year-old World Championships, the 2007 12-year-old Babe Ruth World Series, and the 13-15-year-old Babe Ruth World Championships in Both 2008 and 2012.

“We had an army of volunteers for this world championship,” said Swim. “We had over 300 volunteers who helped with each of these. We had a lot of pride in our city at the time. I would give anything if a group of young entrepreneurs and women started it again. I have boxes of notes I took and sponsors that We had it and how we raised the money. I’d like to pass it on to someone.”

In 2008, Swaim, better known as Big Al, received the Lefty Gomez Volunteer of the Year award by Babe Ruth Baseball Organization as the best volunteer in the country.

A press release from Babe Ruth Baseball reads, Swim “is most famous for his leadership role in bringing the Babe Ruth World Series to Van Buren. Under his leadership, Van Buren has hosted many successful Babe Ruth World Championships. The Babe Ruth headquarters have been very surprised by the pride of their community and their accomplishments. Van Buren now serves as a training site for future World Championship hosts.”

In 2014, Swaim was named to the Southwest Regional Babe Ruth Hall of Fame. In 2017, he was inducted into the Babe Ruth International Hall of Fame.

“You blow me away,” said Swim, borrowing the lyrics from a John Connelly song. “I’m just an ordinary guy who drives an ordinary truck.”

Swim ran the Field of Dream complex from 1996 to 2012, organizing tournaments, preparing stadiums, and providing any other maintenance required.

“The 17 years I worked there were the greatest of my life,” said Soyim. “If you love kids and love baseball, how can you get any better than working on the ball fields. That’s about as good as it gets.”

Swim coached the American Legion baseball team for 14 years, including 1981 through 1988 for the Fort Smith Coca-Cola team and from 1990 through 1995 for the Paper Clip, Crawford County Legion team.

His Coca-Cola teams won the District Championship for four of his eight years and advanced to the American Legion Championship.

American baseball was at its peak in Fort Smith at the time with Kerwin’s and Ernest R. Coleman (ERC) also sponsoring first-class teams.

“We won the regional championship for four years and beat one round in the finals and the other four,” said Soyim. “Any of the three could have won the state championship in any year. They’ve been good.”

Swim remembers taking Coca-Cola to Fayetteville one season and before the match, the home team’s referee, during a pre-match meeting on the board, explained to the coaches what his attacking zone was.

“So, I said, it seems we’re not going to play by the rules, and he didn’t like that,” said Soeim. “No, I haven’t received any calls with this game.”

Having coached baseball at the grassroots level, Swaim, like many seniors, doesn’t like the trend of professional baseball these days.

“I watch professional football, and it drives me crazy,” said Sweem. “They can’t hits, they don’t hit their separate leg, they overshoot the rules, changing bowlers every five hitters. Gone are the good old days of hard baseball.”

Then there is the personal protective equipment players are now using while playing the bases.

Sowaym said, “What are those? Oven gloves.” “If I’m playing these days, I’ll get a 24″ oven mitt. How often are you safe or an inch outside.”

Last spring, Swaim and two old buddies checked out a bucket list item when they rented the farm, field, and lights at the original Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, the location used for the Kevin Costner movie of the same name.

“That night at seven, it was 38 degrees and we went out and played baseball,” said Sweem. “It was so much fun. That night we were on a farm. They had a Field of Dreams movie attached so you could turn around and touch the things you see on TV. It’s so cool.”

Swaim also owned a sports memorabilia store, mostly baseball, on Main Street in Van Buren called America’s Pastime for four years at one point with a soda fountain and sandwich shop.

“It was elegant,” said Sowaym. “I’ve had people tell me we’ve been there with Cooperstown in regards to memorabilia. I went to Cooperstown a few years later, and they were wrong. It’s cool. I love the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. It’s just as cool. I’m just a baseball nut.”

Swaim recently returned to training, where he taught his grandson, Carson Cord, who is currently 13, when he was 8 to 11 years old.

“It was more than wonderful, it was wonderful,” said Sweem. “The whole group was great to train. That group was all from Alma except for one from Ozark.”

However, health issues forced Swaim to give up training. He has suffered from two near-fatal heat strokes, type 2 diabetes that requires four injections a day, has been diagnosed with neuropathy and Parkinson’s disease, and most recently has temporomandibular arthritis.

Sowaym said: “Every day is a blessing.” “When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is thank God. People tell me I’m tough. I’m not tough, I’m just lucky. My grandchildren keep me going. I’ve got every event I feel like watching.”

Last month, Jerry Gladwell and the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club asked SWIM to roll out the first pitch of the AA American Legion State baseball at the restored historic Hunt’s Park.

“I didn’t know this, but they had my team in 1985 to join me,” Soweem said. “I was very surprised by that. This team finished first in the state. They went out with me to the mound, I threw the pitch, and we said a prayer there on pitcher hill while the two teams stayed straight on the pitch. Baseline. Then we went to Calico County to eat. It was One of the most beautiful nights of my life because I didn’t know they’d be there.”

That game featured Van Buren against Fort Smith, two cities that Swim represented during his coaching career with the American Legion.

While giving up training, and in between watching the grandchildren play, Swaim took on a new project to find and donate baseball gloves. Last year, he donated about 100, and now he has 120 more that he plans to donate soon.

Sowaym said: “I give them to the underprivileged children.” “The looks on the children’s faces and their parents’ faces are priceless, and it warms my heart. This is my new assignment.”

Photo Alan Swim presents the first ceremonial field during the AA American Legion State baseball tournament at Hunts Park in Fort Smith. Swaim was honored prior to the game for many years as an American Legion baseball coach at River Valley. Image courtesy Jerry Gladwell, Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club

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