SOUTH TAMPA — The sign outside the Tampa Bay Little League field at the corner of Neptune Street and Manhattan Avenue bears John Bond's name.
But passersby, dozens of players and their families may not know the story behind that name.
That may soon change. A plaque bearing Bond's likeness was mounted this month to the South Tampa ballpark's concession stand. The plaque's inscription explains who Bond was and his dedication to Tampa Little League.
Jim Cornwell, a Tampa native who grew up playing on the fields in the 1950s, thought the plaque was necessary. He suggested adding the plaque and organized a brief dedication ceremony for the Bond family.
Little League ballplayers in the area should be familiar with Bond and know why the field is named after him, Cornwell said.
For more than 30 years, each week Bond painstakingly cared for the fields — cutting the grass, rooting up weeds, trimming the field's edges — for free.
"Without him, the fields would have been a disaster," said Cornwell. "It was his way of giving back."
Bond passed away Jan. 15, 1994, after a two-year illness. The day was also his wife Jean's birthday.
Nearly two decades later, former ballplayers remember his service, which went beyond maintaining the fields. He also called and umpired games, sold concessions and counseled players, Jean Bond said.
"He had so much pride in Tampa Little League," she said. "He loved every minute of it."
Cornwell said the idea for the plaque was sparked last summer when he met Jean Bond. After sharing his memories of John, Cornwell told her that he wanted to honor her husband.
"I feel very honored about this," she said recently of the plaque. "We're very proud of it."
The Bonds raised five daughters in a home across the street from the ballpark. The family took much pride in their father's affiliation with the league, said his daughter Nancy Bond-Bryant.
"I think he spent more time there than he did at home," she said. "It gave him a chance to have camaraderie with men."
Bond's wife said he was born in Bloomfield, Iowa, and moved to Tampa in the 1940s. To her knowledge, he had not played Little League.
Family members wrote the inscription for the plaque. It reads in part:
"John Bond supported Tampa Bay Little League for over 35 years. He volunteered numerous hours maintaining both the Manhattan and Grady fields . . . He had a lot of pride in TBLL, although he never had a son to play ball. His love and dedication to the league will always be remembered."
A retired postal worker, Bond was known to give nuggets of advice — and a silver dollar to home run hitters.
Phil Dingle, who played in the league in the 1970s, was one of several boys to receive the treasured coin from Bond. Now a private equity investor in Tampa, Dingle said he remembers well Bond's popularity among the ballplayers.
Bond's soft-spoken demeanor and quiet, humble personality won over anyone who met him, Dingle said.
"Every Little League kid knew him, and I mean literally worshipped the ground he walked on," he said. "He commanded respect without demanding it."
This latest honor of Bond is "definitely important to the league," said Paul Watson, Tampa Little League's president.
Bond's example of service lives on today. The care of the ballpark is "100 percent parent-driven," Watson said.
"There's no way we could take care of the fields (without the volunteers)," he said.
Kenya Woodard can be reached at [email protected]