The front porch sags. The pine floor-boards have rotted through. Peeling wallpaper barely covers the crumbling plaster. In fact, the run-down, four-room house at 319 South Quincy Street may be the shakiest-looking home in all of Commerce, Okla. What's keeping it upright? "Termites holding hands is all it is," says Charles Duboise, cashier at Commerce's Star Cash Grocery store.

But when Todd McClain and Brian Brassfleld look at the place, they see a fresh-faced kid swatting balls into the bright blue sky-precisely what went on there circa 1935 to 1944, when young Mickey Mantle lived in the house and honed his home-run swing out back, using an old tin barn as a backstop. "This is where he learned to play," McClain, 37, says reverently. "This," chimes in Brassfleld, also 37, "is a piece of history."

Sales managers for a plastics manufacturer—and Mantle fans since their days in Pee Wee baseball—the childhood pals bought the house for $10,000 in 1993 and are determined to turn it into a shrine to their hero. So far they've spent $40,000 of their own money and plan to invest another $50,000 on restoring the house and maybe adding life-size statues of Mantle (who died in 1995) and his dad, Elvin, known as Mutt. "I'd love to see fathers taking pictures of their sons and daughters here," says McClain, who has three children himself. "We're even talking about letting the kids hit baseballs from where Mickey hit them."

But there's a slight snag in their Field of Dreams scenario. Turns out some people in Commerce (pop. 2,426)—a down-on-its-luck former mining town 80 miles northeast of Tulsa—hardly think of Mantle as a favorite son and doubt the site will attract the 100,000 tourists a year the two friends envision. "A lot of the older folks around here are down on Mickey," says Commerce Mayor Jack Young, 73. "He left and didn't come back too much. He didn't even show for his own street dedication."

Even Brassfleld and McClain's wives had misgivings about the project, but the men managed to overcome their resistance. "They have good jobs and no vices," concedes Dana Brassfleld, 35, mother of Brian's two children. "We couldn't begrudge them this." Adds Kristi McClain, 30: "Not that Dana and I are going to roll up our sleeves. We'll cheer them on from the sidelines."

As for Mantle himself, whom Brassfleld and McClain met briefly at a book signing in 1993, he seemed indifferent to their scheme. Undaunted, the boys hope to welcome visitors within the year. "Even if we never make a dime," says McClain, "we've got to do this." And, says Brassfleld: "If we fix it, they will come."

Alex Tresniowski
Kate Klise in Commerce

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  • Kate Klise.