A bit lost in the excitement of Brett Eldredge’s visit to his hometown and concert at Eveland Gym was the reason our favorite son came to Paris for the Country Music Television (CMT) special — to donate $50,000 in upgrades to historic Laker Stadium.
Paris City Commissioner Harry Hughes — a longtime Laker Stadium booster — said the upgrades made through the donations of Ram Nation and Ram Trucks, “would’ve taken us four or five years to complete.”
As is the case with a city budget already strained, upgrading Laker Stadium was not high on the list of priorities when city services must have precedence. Anytime upgrades can be accomplished without additional fundraising, Harry noted, it’s a blessing.
Harry became involved with Laker Stadium thanks to the late Bud Wittick, who urged him to accept an appointment to the Paris Park Board. Bud’s dream was to get lights once again installed at Laker. Harry said Wittick pushed for 20 years to accomplish that goal but died before it could be a reality.
“I went out and collected the money for the lights,” Harry said. There is a monument at Laker at the flagpole honoring Bud Wittick for his service to the park board and the youth of the community.
As the years passed since that project, Harry said the bleachers at the stadium had deteriorated as well as the field itself. “You could stand at home plate and see the rise and fall of the field. It was uneven and dangerous,” he explained.
In 2008, the Paris City Council established the Laker Stadium Board, composed of local baseball enthusiasts and those who wanted to get the park back into shape. Paris High School baseball coach Creighton Tarr was heavily involved, Harry said. “We had to get down to the nitty gritty and get Laker back into shape,” the lifelong Paris resident said.
The first goal of the board was to get thefield back into shape, with Francis Associates and Bob Colvin, B & T Drainage and Adams Excavating tackling that work. The late Howard Furnish designed the dugouts. Moody Farms drove to Vincennes and picked up new sod for Laker. A sprinkler system was also installed.
That brings us to February 2017 when Harry received a call from CMT saying they wanted to come to town and look over Laker Stadium for a possible upgrade. “They visited and we really didn’t know what to expect,” Harry said. CMT officials contacted Harry again and asked a wish list be put together totaling about $50,000.
“Mike Martin (board treasurer) and I got together and made a list,” he said. “Darned if they didn’t do it all.”
Ram Trucks and Ram Nation supplied the monetary support for the upgrades, Harry said, but the idea to select Laker came from Eldredge.
“In the matter of two days, we had a new scoreboard, fresh paint on the dugouts, new siding for the announcer/scorers area, as well as Diamond Pro dirt/clay for the infield,” Harry said. “It would have taken us three or four years to get all that accomplished.”
Laker Stadium has been the home field for the Paris Tigers baseball team for as long as many of us can remember. It is hoped that will continue as the new field at Paris High School will likely be the home for the junior varsity team for the time being.
As the work was completed, Harry admitted he was exhausted, “but also wondered if I was dreaming? Was this real?”
Laker is still used by the Babe Ruth League and has been the site of the Babe Ruth Southern Illinois state tourney the past two years. The American Legion teams also play at Laker during the summer.
“It’s a great facility,” Harry said. “I’m confident it’s one of the best fields around.” Current members of the Laker Stadium Board are Ron Wagonner, president; Michael Martin, treasurer; and Vince Porter, Jim Osborne, Andy Bess, Matt Colvin, John White and Nick Hutchings.
Besides Eldredge and Ram Nation, other supporters of Laker include Edgar County Community Foundation, Scott Ingrum, Mary Stoneburner, Dale English, Rob Bauman, Terry Elston, Paris Park Board, Dirt Poor Landscaping, Paris Youth Baseball, Paris High School baseball, Feutz Contracting, Grimes Construction and Elanco.