Their Field of Dreams

updated 09/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At the Sunrise Cafe in Foreman, Ark., a handful of veterans from the Foreman High School baseball team of '85 are plowing through mountains of burgers and chicken-fried steaks, reminiscing about their near-championship season.

Scotty Smith, 56, who coached the ragtag-group, is recounting one of their goose-bump moments. Two out in the ninth, the Foreman Alligators ahead, 3-2. An opposing runner slides into third just as the ball arrives on a peg from center field. Cloud of dust. All eyes on the ump. At last the haze clears. The Alligator third baseman "is standing there," Smith says, "holding the ball. 'You're out!' the umpire yells. We had won."

That infielder will never make it to Coopers-town, but the people of Foreman named a street after him anyway. After all, Tracy Lawrence, 26, succeeded at another dream that inspires many in this town of 1, 267: singing country music. His 1991 debut album, Sticks and Stones, went gold; his second, Alibis, went platinum in 1993. That year he was also named Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. Last fall, he married model and rodeo competitor Frances Weatherford; they live outside Nashville.

Given the pressures of celebrity, Lawrence savored a chance to return to the Sunrise—fave hangout of old—with some of his former teammates (he sees one of them all the time: Tommy Lee "Opie" McDonald now handles the singer's merchandising). They had formed the Alligators in 1983: It was Foreman High's first baseball team. Smith, a history teacher, volunteered to coach. They even had to build their own ball field, but two years later they came within one game of the state finals. "We were the Bad News Bears of Arkansas," says Lawrence.

The players never fail to credit Smith. "He taught us self-respect and self-discipline," says Lawrence. Responds the coach: "They were a unique bunch." Since leaving school, Lawrence has managed to entice some of his old buddies to see him perform. They couldn't be bothered in the old days. "He'd drag that guitar out at a party," former catcher Mike Cranford says as the guys smile knowingly, "and we'd tell him to hush."

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