If you build it, they will come.
If you build it, they will come.
That has been the mantra on the Vandalia Field of Dream Committee since day one. This past Friday, they came.
In front of a crowd of more than 100 fans, the Vandalia Community High School baseball team christened its nearly new and dramatically improved varsity baseball field. In less than a year’s time, the high school varsity baseball field, softball field and junior varsity field have undergone a complete renovation of the playing surfaces. The renovations turned mediocre ball diamonds in attractive fields that can be envied by area programs.
The Field of Dreams Committee came about when a group of fathers joined together to try to improve the quality of the varsity baseball field. The plan quickly snowballed to include the junior varsity and softball fields used by the high school, and soon included all of the ballparks in Vandalia.
Since the fields are in city parks, VCHS baseball coach Luke Hohlt and Kenny Montgomery, father of VCHS baseball player Trevor Montgomery, went to the park district to get permission to proceed with improvements.
Soon, Hohlt, Montgomery, Don Murrell, John Ashdown and several other members of the community formed the Vandalia Field of Dreams. The group laid out a comprehensive plan to improve all of the diamonds over the next few years.
After securing the proper amount of funds via a loan, the group got to work. With help of some local businesses, the dream started to become a reality.
Dale Johnson of Professional Services in Greenville lent his services and time to help get the FOD its charitable corporation status, so it could operate as a non-profit organization and have tax exemptions.
The physical work on the field began with Matt Wall spraying the varsity field to kill off all the grass. He also killed off a stretch of grass behind the varsity fields, so that a drainage ditch could be dug. Wall’s services came at a reduced rate.
Trent Smith Excavating then dug ditches for drainage, and reshaped the field so that it would drain properly andquickly, so that games could be played on the field soon after heavy rain showers.
The group was able to get sand from at cost from Vandalia Sand and Gravel. Trent Smith of South Central FS then worked the sand into the dirt. The sand will also help in drainage and faster drying.
Montgomery Plumbing donated down spout pipes to be installed around the batting shed so that water will drain into the new ditch. It also donated lights for the batting shed, which were hung by a group of baseball parents and John Rapp of Ameren.
Tyler Montgomery also installed a breaker box for the new lights and the new sprinkler system that would be installed.
Sprinkler Co., of Edwardsville, installed sprinklers on the varsity baseball field.
With all of the ground moving work being done, sod was laid down on the baseball field. The group was able to get grass seed at cost from FS and Jason Hagy planted the grass at a reduced rate. Via Vince Ochs, who is a member of the FOD committee and employee of FS, it was able to get clay bricks and the drying agent Turface all at cost.
“Ochs has been very instrumental in helping with aspects of field preparation because of his knowledge,” Montgomery said.
A work day allowed the Turface to be installed on the baseball and softball fields. Hohlt and VCHS softball coach Brian Buscher installed the clay bricks in the batter’s boxes and in front of the pitching rubbers to have a more solidified base underneath the dirt.
With winter approaching and wanting to protect what they had done, the committee received rubber tarps from Randy Bloemker of Carlyle Syntec. The tarps cover the home plate area and the pitcher’s mound.
Since most of the work had been wrapped up on the varsity baseball and softball field, the committee started looking at the needs of the junior varsity diamond and other ball fields around town.
To level out the JV field and other diamonds, Bruce Miller and Jim Flood donated dirt. The FOD only had to pay to have the dirt hauled to the fields. Committee members spread the dirt and Andy Craig of Craig Excavating donated his time to level and pack the fields, and Mike Cripe of Vandalia Tractor donated the use of its equipment to level the fields.
Ochs was able to get limestone at cost from FS, and the committee leveled the limestone.
For the first time ever, the tree branches encroaching onto the JV field were trimmed back by Steve Hawk of Old Capital Tree Service.
In the final weeks preceeding the season, FOD members, the baseball team and parents took to the field to finish up odd jobs like cleaning up leaves, sowing grass in bare spots and putting up the mesh backdrop in centerfield. Tyler Montgomery installed a remote for the scoreboard and Jeff Hoffman installed new and fixed broken light sockets on the scoreboard.
Hoffman is also in charge of mowing the varsity field. He’ll be using a self-propelled mower and bagger donated by John Britt of Bluff Equipment.
Even with all the work that has been done, there is still more to do. New toilets and sinks will be installed in the restrooms by the baseball field. this week by Montgomery Plumbing.
Any more major improvements will be put off until the end of the baseball season, but the committee will still continue to raise money to help pay off the loan and finance future projects, like a new backstop.
The FOD’s major money maker, thus far, has been selling signs that hang on the outfield walls. As of opening day, there are 55 signs on the high school fields. The 4-feet by 4-feet signs are easily recognizable from all points around the field. Members are still working to sell more signs, as there is plenty of fence space left.
When looking at the fields, it’s hard to imagine all the hours of work that the Vandalia Field of Dreams committee as put in, but it’s clear that the dream is coming true and it will last for years to come.