Team looks back over 30 years of memories as new field in works
Only moths populated Hays High’s baseball field April 25 when head coach James Howard, joined by assistants Joel Hinton and Greg McCulley, started cleaning the home dugout.
Fans, who earlier packed into the stands for the home and regular season finale, saw Hays notch a feel-good win over playoff-bound Anderson. Players, while disappointed in missing the postseason, were excited to celebrate senior night on the field, and not on a stage.
It didn’t take long, however, for the coaches to realize they all played a role in making some history – how that night’s game might just be the final one played at Hays High’s current 30-plus-year-old ballpark.
Next season, Hays’ baseball and softball teams are expected to christen a new on-campus complex, which was part of Hays CISD’s $250 million bond initiative.
“Lots of things go through your mind about how many guys have played here, the talent that’s gone through Hays and what memories have come through this field,” Howard said.
Part of Hays CISD’s ultimate plan for Hays High’s new ballparks includes eventual tearing down the current baseball stadium to make way for additional parking.
“Hallelujiah,” was the only word Doug Ragsdale, longtime Hays High head baseball coach, said regarding the district’s plans for the existing baseball park.
Part of that excitement stemmed from his experience of coaching on a field that wasn’t suited for the 6A level of play. Howard said the program has outgrown the field, which he said is designed for a smaller classification program.
But a larger focus for Ragsdale was seeing the next generation of players compete in a modern stadium. Ragsdale said ideas of building a new ballpark have been floating around for the past 15 or more years.
“I’m overjoyed. We are long overdue for a new field out there,” Ragsdale said. “I’m extremely happy for our players and everyone that got it.”
Letting go of the current stadium, however, evoked strong memories for Ragsdale, who helmed the program for more than a decade. Those included the numerous district titles, playoff teams and athletes who have gone through the program.
Working through the ballpark’s “peculiarities” was also a badge of honor for players and coaches as well.
Depending on how the wind was blowing some nights, hitters could have found left field to be just a little shorter than the advertised 300-feet.
Players and coaches also dealt with a large drop in elevation from home plate to center field, which was done for drainage purposes.
As a result, Hays’ coaching staff built a pitchers mound three-feet high, to adhere to baseball rules of the mound being no more than 18-inches above the plate.
Ragsdale said the coaching staff regularly kept a surveyors tool on hand, just in case umpires questioned its legality.
Coy Lowden, a Hays High graduate who later played collegiate and professional baseball, said Hays’ pitchers mound was “kind of like a little mountain out there.”
Lowden said opposing pitchers disliked pitching at Hays because it forced them to alter their mechanics. However, Lowden also recalled how Rebel pitchers sometimes struggled whenever they went on the road.
“It was our home field, so us pitchers were used to it, but it was a home field advantage for us,” Lowden said.
For Lowden, the close-knit feel of the ballpark is what he will remember most. How during playoff games, fans sat in lawn chairs from foul pole to foul pole to catch a glimpse of the action.
“The stands were close to the field and you could interact with family and friends,” Lowden said. “Not being so far away, you hear everything and see everything and be a part of the game.”
Howard said the connection to the field meant more than just the wins and losses. It signified players coming together for the program and the team.
“It’s the guys that played here and the blood, sweat, tears and effort they put in,” Howard said. “To these guys, the name across the chest means something to them.”