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Stepping Up To The Plate

June 22, 2014, 10:00 PM by Don Jorgensen

Stepping Up To The Plate

Baseball may be America's favorite past time, and in the town of Winner in south central South Dakota, the game has a lot of history.

But the baseball season this year almost didn't happen.

It's not the field of dreams, but Leahy Bowl in Winner is where a lot of baseball dreams were born.

"Just the beautiful view, the ability to sit here and watch from your cars if you get bad weather up on the hills and everything like that, a lot of history here," Winner Baseball Association board member John Calhoon said.

That history started in 1953 when Leahy Bowl hosted numerous minor league teams in what was then called the Basin League. It provided entertainment to local fans and gave young players their first chance at playing professional baseball

The games attracted hundreds of people and produced numerous stars, including three Hall of Famers in pitchers Bob Gibson , Don Sutton and Jim Palmer; whose name still appears on the center field wall after being inducted into the South Dakota Baseball Hall of Fame.

Leahy Bowl is named after legendary Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy who grew up in Winner.

This past spring, mother nature threw the town a curve when a strong wind storm blew through the area knocking down one of the 80 foot tall historic stadium lights. 

An inspection shed light on a much bigger problem. Engineers looked closely at the other aging towers and deemed them unsafe as well.

"The City right away with the liability issue decided to close the whole park down and locked the gates so nobody could get in here," Calhoon said.

"I could see the liability issue, because the swimming pool is so close and little league fields right there," Glen McCready said.

McCready is also on the Winner Baseball Association Board. He says when the City closed the park, the baseball season was in jeopardy, unless they could find a way to reinforce the existing light towers.

But to make the repairs, it was going to take a lot of money, money the city council hadn't budgeted for.

"The City was talking about tearing them down and going after some grants to put up light poles and we wanted to save our season, wanted to play ball and I thought if there was a way that we could save our season and save our light poles, we would go after that," McCready said.

But to preserve America's favorite past time and a piece of history, it would take close to $50,000.

After some lengthy discussions with the city council, the decision was finally made to hold a fundraiser to make the repairs.

"The community really stepped up, once we got the word out through radio and messages and email, we were going to start this fundraising drive to repair the towers as opposed to having them torn down and wait for a grant to put something else in, it was a tremendous response," Calhoon said.

"It was unbelievable, in nine days we raised close to $70,000. I had phone calls from California, Colorado, Wyoming, all over, people who had personal ties to South Dakota. I even got a donation from Jim Lonborg who played here in 1963 and then went on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox," McCready said.

Crews quickly reinforced the remaining light towers by pouring concrete around the base of each one and installing a temporary light pole to replace the one that toppled in the wind.

The community's response and the quick fix saved more than just the baseball season.

"We had 70 ball games lined up for the season with teeners, American Legion and amateur ball. Otherwise we would have lost that and lost the economic value of people coming to Winner this season to play ball," McCready said.

But this time, it's the players who can thank the fans who are the ones who stepped up to the plate.


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