Medical Lake's Holliday Field has 'em talking
Brayden Hale put the exclamation mark on the Medical Lake AA American Legion baseball season and allowed Dan Wagner to have a smile on his face as he rolled up the hoses, parked the ATV and padlocked the gate one final time at Holliday Field in 2014.
Hale’s bases-clearing triple in the bottom of the sixth inning drove home three runs, and he then scored the game winning run moments later in his team’s second come-from-behind victory of the night, 10-9 over the visiting Prairie Cardinals from Post Falls and Rathdrum.
The home of Medical Lake’s spring and summer baseball now transitions to its fall role as the school’s football field.
In recent years, Holliday Field has been the talk of many in area baseball circles. The finely manicured field draws praise from everyone from fans to players to umpires, Wagner, volunteer groundskeeper said this past week.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
After the winter of 2007-08, one of the snowiest on record here, the field did not drain and took forever to become playable.
Wagner, whose son Ryan was playing at the time, became the front man in an effort to improve conditions. He went to the Medical Lake School Board to plead his case, came away with $20,000, and away things went.
“We just kind of took off, full steam ahead, not knowing what we’re doing,” Wagner said. They brought in 100 yards of fill dirt, installed state-of-the-art drainage and a clay pitching mound.
Next came a couple of new light poles that allowed the field to host night baseball.
“We have to give a shout-out to Alexis Alexander, a former Medical Lake kid who is now an electrical engineer for Avista,” Wagner said. Alexander, who played professional baseball briefly, got a lot of materials donated. “Avista really stepped up to the plate, no pun intended.”
That means just four fields in the Greater Spokane area — Avista, Gonzaga, Shadle Park and Medical Lake — can accommodate night baseball.
“To come out here with the music and the lights, it’s a neat atmosphere,” Wagner said.
For Wagner, who has spent his days working at Eastern State Hospital the past 30 years, doing the night shift on the baseball field pays nothing.
But it does have a payback of sorts.
He works alongside his son, Ryan, who instead of chasing the athletic dream in college, chose to devote full energy to his degree at Eastern Washington University. He will be a senior this fall pursuing a degree in education.
“Sometimes it’s a bonus,” Wagner joked. “It used to be about the field but the biggest reward is working with Ryan.”
His son has taken the same passion towards the field, his forte the baselines, his dad said. “He’s meticulous.”
For Wagner, doing the field maintenance was one of those “Be careful what you wish for,” things. When he petitioned for money he didn’t think about who would actually take care of the finished product.
There was no real budget in the school district for the added maintenance, and coaches didn’t have the time, he said. “So I just started doing it.”
The nature of the ballpark itself is special. Its dimensions are unique because it shares turf with football. A short center field backed up by the gridiron grandstand is just 338 feet from home plate. Yet a shot hit into the gap in right-center goes for seemingly miles — actually 389 feet, and 385 to left-center.
The upgrades at Holliday Field were a true team effort.
“It just isn’t me, a ton of people helped,” Wagner said. “It is a tribute to a small town where everybody pulls together to get things done.”
Wagner said special credit belongs to the late Mike Paulson, a passionate baseball booster, and father of Adam Paulson, an ML grad.
Paulson, who passed away suddenly a year ago last May, might not have been the guy with shovel in hand but he knew to whom and where to go for needed resources, Wagner said.
Originally Wagner’s message to the school board harkened back to the movie, “Field of Dreams,” and that iconic line, “If you build it they will come.”
They have, Wagner said.
In 2013 there were 91 games played in Medical Lake, by contrast Wagner pointed out, “A Major League team plays 81.” This past season about 60 games were played there.
“I don’t look for accolades, I don’t get paid a dime, but when a kid comes up to you and says, ‘Thank you sir,’ what else can you ask for,’” Wagner said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.