As the lights went out last Friday night at Billy Sunday Field, 72 years of games being played on that field, many of them Nevada High School games, came to an end.
Nevada historian, Dorian Myhre, shared the historic details: “The entire 4-H Grounds came about through construction of the Nevada Recreation Center through the Works Progress Administration, with final approval being received Jan. 27, 1940. They built three barns and the Community Building. (The Lauren Christian Swine Barn is the only remaining one of the three original barns.) The Community Building was built in 1941… The park area grew in popularity, which led to the development of a lighted baseball field in 1946, named Billy Sunday Field for the famous Nevada resident,” who was an evangelist and a great baseball player of his time.
Nestled in the corner of the fairgrounds area, the field has its own personality, its own definite aura. There’s no easy way to let go of a field where so many memories have been made and so many games have been played. But, going out with a home team win does ease the pain.
As Nevada senior baseball starter Jack Higgins was walking away last Friday night, he said it seemed fitting to play his last high school game at the field where he’d spent his high school summers in Nevada. “I think it feels right going out here.” And after a slow start against Colo-NESCO that night, the Cubs eventually won the game 6-3, and Higgins was glad the home team could get a win for Billy Sunday Field.
“I think a lot of families have liked this stadium. It’s been around a long time,” he said. He’s glad he’s been part of a baseball program that, in the past couple years, has really started to find its groove and put more wins on the board. “We’ve had more wins, and more fans coming to the field because of that,” he said.
Last Friday night saw a full crowd for the last scheduled game at Billy Sunday Field, and among those in attendance were a number of former Nevada High School players.
Brian Hanson, who watched the entire game from the deck of the concession stand, said he dug out his old baseball cap for the night. Hanson played first base through high school, graduating in 1987. He’s also spent time at the field over the years coaching kids, serving food in the concession stand and umpiring for youth, when needed.
“I’m kind of sad that Samuel (his son, who will be in seventh grade this year) isn’t going to play here, but I’m also excited for him to get to play on a new field,” Hanson said.
The new field is under construction in the northeast corner of the SCORE Park right now and is expected to be ready for the first game of the 2019 baseball season. It will be a great new field, for a baseball team that has begun a new culture of excellence, in Hanson’s opinion, under young coach Blake Jobe.
Hanson, who is a member of the City Council, said the new baseball field is not only special because it will be a great field for baseball, but it is also a sign of a new relationship and more cooperation than in past years between the Nevada Schools and city of Nevada.
Nick Brown, who played baseball just a few years back for Nevada, was on hand to watch some of his former teammates. He always loved the location of Billy Sunday Field, he said. And he admits, he has mixed feelings about the new field. He’s glad for the younger players, but he’s going to miss Billy Sunday too. “It’s more like a traditional field,” he said.
Among those traditions was the inclusion of vines in the outfield fences for many years.
Older Nevada players were recalling those vines and how they made the field seem kind of like a little Wrigley Field back in the day.
A surprise to many in the crowd was realizing that one of the greatest Nevada pitchers (there were several) of all time was watching the game that night. Near the concession stand Dave Wisnieski, who graduated from Nevada in 1981 and was a star pitcher who went on to play baseball for Iowa State (when they still had a program), was back in town for a family gathering. Some of the family decided to pay a visit to the old baseball field when they realized a game was going on.
Wisnieski said he played Babe Ruth all the way through high school ball on Billy Sunday Field. “And, I worked for Parks and Recreation and had to do a lot of maintenance down here,” he said. He remembered not only the vines on the fence, but also when the field didn’t have grass on the infield and every year that meant picking up rocks off the field.
“This was a fun place to play, though,” he said. “It’s a pretty setting.”
His teammate and brother-in-law, Scott Trulin, was with him. Scott played center field during the same years Wisnieski pitched. “He struck out a lot,” Wisnieski joked. Then Wisnieski’s sister, Barb, Scott’s wife, joked with her brother. “We were constantly yelling at him (Dave) to unhook the plow,” she said. Barb was a softball standout in Nevada and graduated in 1980. She said her brother was a very good pitcher, but not known for being fast on the basepaths.
Wisnieski, from Clive, and Trulin, from Blair, Neb., said when they were seniors, Nevada was ranked in baseball.
There have definitely been some good teams that have played ball on the historic field.
Chad Highland of Nevada graduated in 1991 and was a catcher for his Nevada High School team. He enjoyed listening to all the memories being shared. And oddly, the mosquitoes weren’t too bad and weather was absolutely gorgeous on the field’s last night — just the opposite of many hot, mosquito-filled nights many players and fans have endured there, especially with its close proximity to Indian Creek.
Highland said he started going to the field around the age of 5 to help his Uncle Charlie Highland run the scoreboard. “Charlie was a janitor at the schools and he loved baseball. He became the high school baseball announcer.”
Much as Highland will miss the field, he said he won’t argue that a new field is needed.
As Nevada resident Mary Jo Kellogg looked through pictures from the last game on Facebook, she reminisced: “…I remember the games that I came to with my grandparents in the late 1940s, when there was a town team that played there; the cars were parked around the fence from third (base) to home (plate) and down to first (base). I usually would fall asleep in the back seat. I still have that old scratchy blanket…
“When we moved to our house on I Avenue, we could hear the sound of the bat connecting with the ball. We would sit outside and watch everyone driving by or walking by after the games…always seemed like they would have good crowds. (I’m) going to miss that ‘ping’ of the bats that they use now…
“But we must move forward with the times. ‘Go Cubs!’”
Please visit the Nevada Journal Facebook page for a video from the last game and more photos from that evening.