Tommy Forrest Ball Park has gone through a total transformation from the dust bowl days to what it looks like now.
The only problem is that the park hadn’t really had a celebration to mark the work that’s been done because of Covid-19. That was until June 23.
The park had its official grand reopening that evening, complete with speeches from those involved in helping get the site to its rebuilt state. In addition, some exhibition games were held featuring players from the Yk Fastball League and Yk Minor Fastball.
Steve Thomas, vice-president of the adult fastball league, said the evening was held in conjunction with the annual Family Day at the Ballpark.
“We usually get a real good crowd for that, so we decided why not hold both events together and create a really nice atmosphere?” he said.
The final piece of the park’s revitalization was installed in 2020 with the playground situated behind the field, but pandemic restrictions continued to interfere with a celebration.
“We were always optimistic we could do something,” said Thomas. “We wanted to try last year, but we had the big (Covid) outbreak that spring. We knew it would be over with eventually and now with everything seemingly getting back to normal, it worked out that we were able to put it all together.”
The evening began with a description of what has changed over the years with nearly everything replaced since the work began in 2015: new dugouts, new backstop behind home plate, new fencing around the beer garden, new bleachers, new grass, new netting to protect the surrounding roadways (particularly the busy Franklin Avenue), a new concession area, and the playground.
Following that, it was time for some speeches from guests such as Mayor Rebecca Alty, longtime player and administrator Paul Gard, and Rob Johnson, co-ordinator of the Tommy Forrest Field Revitalization Project.
Johnson said it’s surreal to look back to the days when there was essentially no grass in the outfield.
“I remember when I started playing, we were out at Parker Park,” he said. “We were excited to play at Tommy Forrest because there were real dugouts and bleachers, but the lack of grass was the big thing. It just kept deteriorating over time and it seems so strange now to see it and remember what it used to be like.”
Although the grass was a welcome addition, Johnson said it was actually the dugouts that were replaced first.
“We went to the city — it’s their land — and we asked them if they could help us with that,” he said. “They sent over a backhoe and dug everything up and filled it in with gravel, then the new dugouts were put up.”
At the time of the playground’s opening in 2020, Garrett Hinchey, then-president of the Yk Fastball League, said the grass installation was the catalyst for giving the park as much of a face-lift as possible.
A huge Chase The Ace raffle in 2017 netted the league more than $500,000 to put toward the initiative.
“The Chase The Ace went beyond even our wildest expectations,” said Hinchey at the time. “Now we had a lot of money and so we put together a plan to take to the city.”
That plan involved the league and the city agreeing on a three-year deal in 2018 to fix things up. Under the terms of the agreement, the league put in $140,000 per year while the city topped it up with $60,000 per year.
Alty was part of the council in 2018 that voted in favour of the agreement.
She was on hand for the grand reopening to deliver some remarks and said it’s been quite the transformation.
“I can still remember the pitch from the fastball league on a cold November night all those years ago,” she said. “They had dreams of new grass and new bleachers and a new scoreboard. It sounded really good, and I always had the confidence that the crew behind it could get it done. I wouldn’t have supported it back then if I didn’t think they could.
“As someone who has raised a lot of money in the past, I can tell you it’s easier said than done,” she said. “It’s just great to see so many people of all ages enjoying the area, the playground looks great, more youth are playing softball — it’s become a real community space. I like to call (the fastball league) a group of dreamers and doers and they did it.”
Now that everything has come together, Johnson said he couldn’t have imagined how well everything would turn out.
“It was such a privilege to be a part of this,” he said. “Our original budget was something, like, $225,000, but the Chase The Ace blew us past that and the league just said to keep on going to see what we could do now that we had the money. The city has been a great partner. We had a lot of help from great businesses in town and so many other people who gave their time. The diamond is in use every day, it seems, and it makes you smile.”