Of Locke Field, Elvis and Gerry the Elephant
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Joanie Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
Elvis Presley played at Locke Field. So did the Gainesville Community Circus as well as William Sisler, a 5-foot-6 left-handed pitcher who must have loved baseball more than anybody who ever lived.
He was 46 when he played for the Gainesville Owls in 1946, having played professional baseball since 1923. He would continue for two more years. Gainesville and Locke Field were just one of 43 Minor League stops for Sisler in a career that never came close to the Major Leagues.
Robert Clodfelter and Henry Dlugokecki pitched at Locke Field in 1951 when the Owls brought the Big State League championship home to Gainesville.
Presley only played the guitar at Locke Field on April 14, 1955 in front of some 150 people. But Kevin Darwin and Dwayne Williams pitched there one spring weekend 30 years ago. Kevin, who was the brother of Rangers pitcher Danny Darwin, pitched for Bonham and Williams was pitching for Pottsboro. Williams ended up pitching at TCU but led the Cardinals to the championship of the Gainesville High School Tournament. Or did Darwin’s Purple Warriors win it? Can’t remember.
It has been 30 years since covering that tournament for the Denison Herald. Locke Field opened up in 1946 and is one of the last baseball fields in the state with wooden dugouts and a covered wooden stands. It is a Class D ballpark, a level of the Minor Leagues that no longer exists. Class D was the absolute bottom of the ladder and was wiped away in 1963 by television in an era before Minor League baseball boomed again.
The Society of American Baseball Research has identified Locke Field as one of the last Class D ballparks in existence. If Locke Field were located in Cooperstown, it would be considered a national treasure. It is not
Instead it is in Gainesville and still standing at the corner of I-35 and California Street, which is the main avenue through town. But now the city is ready to tear down the 65-year-old structure, possibly to build a new apartment complex on the site.
Apparently the such things are needed in Gainesville because this town of 15,000-plus along the Red River is experiencing an economic boom.
That’s a good thing because Gainesville is one of the most beautiful small towns that can be found in Texas. The Cooke County courthouse hovers majestically over a vibrant downtown that has been reborn after getting clobbered by the opening of the massive discount stores out on the highway. The train station has been restored to former glory and as you stroll through the tree-covered streets south of downtown through the Historic District – a few blocks away from Locke Field – you will pass by many spectacular homes including some that have been designated as a historical landmark.
The Fried Pie Co. on the square in downtown is a must-stop when in Gainesville, but all you need to know about the town is town has its own zoo. The Frank Buck Zoo is located across the highway from Locke Field and has about 130 animals living there amid the tranquil pastoral setting of Leonard Park.
The zoo is located on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, which flooded exactly 31 years ago today. Gerry the elephant was completely underwater for 30-40 hours but survived by keeping her trunk in the air and holding on to the branches of a tree.
Locke Field fits nicely into all of this and you can see it plainly off to the right as you go north on I-35 right before the California Street exit. But you better hurry before the apartment complex goes up although there are some in Gainesville who want to save Locke Field.
It does not go unused, at least right now. The high school team still plays there and is in charge of maintenance although they may build their own field next to the new high school off the interstate south of town.
North Central Texas College, which started playing baseball in 1993 and has built a nationally-ranked powerhouse, has its own facility and Darwin Fields is quite impressive. Certainly for recruiting purposes, a top-flight facility is necessary. The Lions play in the North Texas Conference along with the likes of Grayson, McLennan and Navarro and it may be the toughest junior college league in the nation.
One suggestion is for the Texas Collegiate League to put a franchise in Gainesville and play at Locke Field, and there are a bewildering number of independent leagues that spring up almost from nowhere. But all those leagues and teams maintain a tenuous year-to-year existence as opposed to the stability of a high school or local college
So once the high school builds a new facility, then Locke Field could go unused in a spot that is considered prime real estate. A historical ballpark is one thing, an unused, empty field is another. One might point out that the zoo is prime real estate as well but the deer and the antelope still play daily unlike the Owls.
Class D is no more and Elvis has left the building. Instead of Schad & Pulte, Gainesville has a Wal-Mart and new apartments may be on their way. But there is also an apartment complex in Brooklyn where Ebbets Field once stood. Wonder how many other ballparks where William Sisler played are still standing.