Gainesville Daily Register

September 24, 2012

MacPherson: Locke Field is more than just a stadium

Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register

GAINESVILLE — Off the top of your head think of all the buildings in Gainesville that were built before 1950.

I’m sure you thought of more than a few in this history rich town.

Now, think of which one of those landmarks the city is itching to tear down.

I bet that’s a bit of a tougher task. But that is what will happen if a new set of apartments move to town, forcing the demise of historic Locke Field.

The city is currently discussing the future of the stadium that was built in 1946 to host the Gainesville Owls, a minor league baseball team that lasted until 1955. The most likely future for the stadium is to demolish the stands, clear the land and build a 144-family apartment complex.

Since the Owls departed in the mid-1950s due to financial troubles, the stadium has hosted multiple events that make this city so special.

The most famous of which might be when a little known musician came to town by the name of Elvis Presley in 1955.

Since then the stadium has, at various times, played home to the North Texas Central Texas College and Gainesville High baseball teams.

The city has also used it for other events such as the 2002 GHS state basketball championship celebration and the land on the side for when the fair came to town.

Anyone who has spent any time in Gainesville has a story to tell about

the stadium.

I remember my baseball coach while at Gainesville High, Roger Byrd,

telling me about his first experience at Locke Field.

While playing baseball for Ardmore High School, Byrd and the Tigers had a road game at the stadium. When the team arrived, the game was delayed nearly 30 minutes as an elephant from the neighboring carnival had wondered into the stadium.

My favorite memories are all baseball related - beating No. 6 state-ranked Celina as a senior, countless summer league games and attending the annual GHS spring baseball tournament.

The stadium is engraved into the history of the city nearly as deep as the courthouse, train depot and the Frank Buck Zoo. Locke Field is Gainesville.

So what’s the solution?

I get that the stadium isn’t bringing the quarter of a million dollars in tax revenue that the proposed apartments will bring in.

I get that the stadium sits there unused for a large part of the year.

What I don’t get is why we can’t embrace the stadium for what it is instead of demolishing it for what it isn’t.

The stadium would be a great fit for a team in the Texas Collegiate League - a league used by college baseball players to hone their skills during the summer. If lured to town, the team could lease the stadium during the summer and have it ready by the time the school year rolls around.

The Texas Collegiate League team in The Woodlands put forth the money to renovate the baseball field at a high school in its area. That could be another benefit of bringing in a TCL team.

On that same note, the stadium would also be more than suitable for summer tournaments. If the city could bring in 12-16 club teams twice a summer for a tournament, you would bring in money to local hotels and restaurant as well as showcase our city and employ people at the field.

Another thing I think should be looked at is the historical significance of the stadium. According to the Texas Historical Commission, Locke Field passes the three criteria to be designated a historical landmark - age, historical significance and architectural integrity.

I’m a proponent of growth in Gainesville. I still believe in the old Gainesville motto of having a “small town atmosphere with a global attitude.” But I think it should be done the right way, not by wiping away history.

There are plenty of places to build new complexes -- albeit not all city own. And, of course, location, location, location is the first rule of real estate. But if there’s a demand for apartments in Gainesville, then people will rent regardless of location.

As the DFW metroplex continues its slow crawl up Interstate 35, the city will face more and more tough decisions in regards to its growth. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

All I ask for is a little more thought and consideration of the history of the town and the stadium.

I’ve attended hundreds of high school baseball stadiums in this state and, when kept correctly, Locke Field ranks up there with any of them.

It would be a shame to lose it for another generic chain link fence field at GHS.

Of course that might be easier to demolish 70 years from now.

Keith MacPherson is the sports editor at the Gainesville Daily Register. He can be reached at sportsgdr@ntin.net