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Chuck Buttz, Ron Brooks and Steve Barge, left to right, stand on the pitcher's mound at Al K. Jackson Field. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Brooks’ Jackson Field aspirations take shape

It isn’t exactly the Field of Dreams – that story of a baseball field created in a cornfield – but it is one man’s dream to install an artificial turf infield at Shadle Park’s Al K. Jackson Field.

Shadle baseball coach Ron Brooks and a supporting cast have bit by bit, through word-of-mouth, made believers of former Legion players who are pledging, in partnership with American Legion Baseball, to make that dream a reality.

“The project was kicked around two or three years ago by American Legion,” said Brooks, a 1973 graduate and lifelong Highlander. “It came down to an old man’s challenge. It’s a vision, a dream and you never lose hope.”

Brooks was encouraged when he heard positive comments from other baseball fanatics, among them former Legion players Dana Richardson, Keith Snyder, Joe Everson, Tim Rypien and Vern Hare, who are all on board and helping spearhead the project.

“It’s a community effort from former players who have a vested interest in baseball in this town,” Brooks said. “Back in the day when American Legion was the only (summer) game in town, it created special memories.”

Shadle’s baseball field is the only high school diamond in Spokane with lights. It is named for former Legion commissioner Al Jackson, who sat vigilant tending the gate for decades, keeping baseball affordable for players and espousing the American Legion philosophy.

The park has been Legion’s home since 1969. As might be expected, rainy springs and busy summers have taken a toll on the old girl.

“By the time you’re closing it down for the summer, it might not be the best playing surface in town,” Legion president Steve Barge said. “It’s been used hundreds, if not thousands, of times.”

Although there have been problems with the lights, Brooks said they are useable. It’s the field that is his major concern.

“It will never go away, because it’s the only lighted field in town,” he said.

Barge and current commissioner Chuck Buttz have joined in supporting Brooks and his buddies’ quest. The carpet infield is akin to Gonzaga Prep’s football turf and has been installed by numerous high schools in Western Washington. It would be better able to withstand spring rains and reduce wear and tear in the summer.

Despite the trend toward select travel teams, Spokane’s league, 47 teams strong, is still the largest in Washington.

American Legion baseball was started in 1925 and initially funded by the major leagues. Today there are 5,400 teams representing every state, plus Canada and Puerto Rico, and the organization has a system of league, state and regional tournaments that ultimately culminate with a national World Series.

If the field is renovated, it would create the opportunity for more state and regional tournaments, Barge said.

The total cost of renovating Jackson Field is in the neighborhood of $160,000, Brooks said. Simply by networking through telethons and social media, ex-players by the hundreds have raised half the cost. Brooks’ goal is to have the rest in time to begin work in the fall.

“Realistically, in a down economy, if it takes a year or two we’re going to get it done,” Buttz said. “I think it is something that will be really beneficial to the community.”

In addition to the obvious benefits, it will reduce injuries and create truer hops for infielders, Buttz said.

The mind-boggling show of support has buoyed Brooks, who said the current economy could be an advantage.

“My gut tells me we’re going to get it done,” he said. “It’s something that will change baseball in Spokane.”