MIAMI -- When Frank Gore last played on the field at Armbrister Park, everybody thought his best path to success would be at linebacker. He played both ways here from the start of grade school into high school, but the lasting memory he gave Coconut Grove natives was that he could thump.
For Gore, now the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher, playing on this field provided some of the highlights of his childhood. He'd leave the two-bedroom apartment that he shared with nine family members and use all his emotions as fuel as he ran over and through anybody that was in his way.
That's why it's so important for him to come back, to show that a kid from Coconut Grove who had just a little more than nothing became the hometown hero who will eventually have the same field he played on named after him. That's in the works within the next year or two.
"It means everything. This is where I was born and raised. I played a lot of ball out here in this park. They see me a lot," Gore said Tuesday night. "I'm one of the reasons that gives them hope. If I can do it, they can do it. That's the main thing. That's why when I do come back, I talk to them. I tell them my story and what I overcame to get here."
Tuesday night, Gore surprised kids from his former Pop Warner football team, the Coconut Grove Cowboys, with equipment he purchased. It includes tackling dummies, a chain set and down markers, footballs, pylons, Gatorade bottles and Junior Dolphins T-shirts.
Two or three dozen young football players and another two dozen cheerleaders huddled in a group after their practice to listen to a speech from former Dolphins running back Tony Nathan, then they ran to the truck as Gore and his partners unloaded the equipment.
At one point, Gore is holding someone's baby. A couple minutes earlier, he's pulled by two fourth-grade kids to come play. Gore seems to enjoy it all.
"It's like family," Gore said. "It's a small neighborhood. Everybody knows everybody."
Gore is a hero of Coconut Grove, one of Miami's oldest neighborhoods and one that was filled primarily with African-American and Bahamian people when he lived here. He was brought up in the Grove projects. His upbringing was just as hard or harder than the rest of the Grove kids. But he made it out.
But on this Tuesday, it's all about Gore. And they're all screaming Gore's name as he continues to distribute equipment of a pickup truck. Gore, typically reserved, can't help but break out of his shell when the kids come up asking for pictures or hugs.
"I'm happy I'm home," said Gore, who turned 35 in May and is playing in his 14th NFL season. "When I went to high school, my whole neighborhood, they followed me. They wanted to see me be successful. That's one thing about this neighborhood -- we're all together. We all want everybody who has a chance to come out here and do great things."
The field Gore played on was rough grass, not the high-quality turf it sports now.
In recent years, gentrification in Coconut Grove has pushed out many low-income locals, with homes on the block now going for $500,000.
Gore has visions of making this area better, but his goal is to make sure that people who look like him and grew up like him can experience it.
A committee with Gore, Rodney Best (Gore's cousin) and several others have had talks with Miami-Dade County commissioner Xavier Suarez and his son, Miami mayor Francis Suarez, about further revitalizing the neighborhood around Armbrister Park. Best said the city of Miami has asked them to step in to help "redevelop" this area instead of further gentrifying it.
Their proposal is slated to include a plan to rename the current football field Frank Gore Field and to add a school nearby named Frank Gore Academy, which would have after-school programs; the goal is to bring back affordable housing and jobs for locals. They are in the fundraising stage now, through the Coconut Grove Sports Village Trust Fund, and hope to start breaking ground within a year or year and a half.
"This is all a dream. My first goal was to play in the NFL. Now I get to do it back home," said Gore, who also played at the University of Miami. "I want to make sure I'm not the last NFL player to come out of the Grove."