Imagine the whole town going to a ball park to watch a Maple Ridge team take their cuts.
Hammond used to be synonymous with baseball. Routinely, 5,000 people – everyone who could make it – would be out to watch a game.
As municipal hall gives the Hammond ball field a $750,000 makeover, it wants to incorporate some of Maple Ridge’s baseball-mad history into the new design.
“There are some good stories,” said Val Patenaude, director of the Maple Ridge Museum and Archives. “You can’t really talk about the history of Hammond without talking about baseball.”
Doan Hartnell, the manager and partner in the Hammond Cedar Mill during the 1920s, was a baseball fanatic.
“He travelled North American hiring ringers, and he would give them a job at the mill, and they would play baseball,” explained Patenaude.
Hartnell had an eye for talent, and was able to build a winner.
In 1924, Hammond won the provincial hardball championship.
Back then, teams would have to rustle cattle off the field at the Aggie Grounds, then play a game in the pasture.
Finally, Pete Telosky, a man who had earned a living playing baseball during the Dirty Thirties, and who was tired of playing on turf chewed up by hooves, built a dedicated ball stadium on his farm in Haney in 1950. His large farm took in what is now Thomas Haney secondary and Telosky Stadium.
The field of dreams cost $12,000 and initially had seating for 2,000.
The Vancouver Sun reported on Oct. 28 of 1950: “If Haney was a baseball-crazy town in past years, the new park has raised ardour of the fans to the point of fanaticism. The team drew more admissions during the first two months of this season than it did during five months on the old Agricultural Grounds in 1949. Dominion and Labour Day tournaments offering $1,400 in prizes were attended by a total of 15,000 spectators from all over the Lower Mainland. Six home Dewdney League playoff games in August attracted 10,000, an amazing figure for amateur baseball.”
But the explosion in baseball attendance in the area was soon decimated by the popularity of television.
“Television changed everything. That was kind of the beginning of the end for that big local scene,” said Patenaude.
The Walker family, the clan that produced Larry Walker Jr., arguably the greatest Canadian baseball player of all time, is also a big part of the local hardball scene, and so was the Bowyer family, which made extraordinary contributions to baseball.
Bruce McLeod, the manager of parks, planning and development, presided over a public meeting at the Hammond Community Centre on Monday night, about the design for the new Hammond Stadium.
Key changes to the park will be installing a complete drainage system and automatic irrigation, putting up lights, upgrading the turf, and erecting a permanent outfield fence.
He was able to allay the fears that blackberries on the western boundary of the park would be removed.
However, he added, some invasive plant species would have to be removed, and native bushes planted.
Neighbours were informed that the modern lights do not have a lot of “spill” into neighbouring properties, and they are generally not lit past 10 p.m.
And McLeod said they would like some piece of Hammond’s baseball history to be enshrined at the park.
“That’s our objective – to reference this facility having a historical perspective,” he said.
How Hammond’s baseball past will be reflected has not yet been decided.
Members of the public can offer feedback about the new ball park until a May 31 deadline, by sending an email to email@example.com.
Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, with grass to be seeded by September.