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.

 

 

 

18 Comments

Outstanding. Have you written any books?

Sent from my iPhone

Ben J. Sexton

Just one…plus a coffee table book

Got it Nolan road to Cooperstown. You have to have a book in you. Maybe one with all the short stories such as this one. Do it. If you write it, we will read.

Sent from my iPhone

Ben J. Sexton

Thanks, TR! I love it! Amazing what a little walk-about can inspire! Rebecca

Thanks for the story and walk down memory lane. I hope there are enough history and baseball lovers in the area to submit Locke Field as a historical landmark. I will be sad to see it go.

Beautiful! Thanks for your insight. Maybe others will join the “Save Locke Field” brigade. Barbara

Nice work, Toby. My being a very old, (455 D. years), east coast dog, I always thought Joanie was singing about the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. You’ve shown me that baseball dogs across America like to wax nostalgic about all fields.

Great story on Locke Field. Will be a shame to see it go only to be replaced by apartments.

Hey, great story! Shirley & I agree that it should be saved, but we don’t get to vote in Gainesville – and the city council didn’t ask for the input of citizens, anyway, other that after they had already made up their minds. Oh well, maybe another election will bring more responsive members; but too late for Locke Field.

Just so we don’t let facts get in the way there was a vote in 2010 and the resolution was passed by the voters to allow the City Council to develop and lease the land that Locke Field sits on.

Also the council has held two public forums in the last 30 days for the public to speak about this issue

Very interesting. I’ve driven by it 100+ times, many of those on my way south from Oklahoma destined for Arlington, and always noticed it, but had not idea it was historiclly significant. Thanks.

Can it it still be bought and saved? If so, how much?

Wow, a comment about my alma mater the Bonham High School Purple Warriors
Was one year behind Danny Darwin. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane

Imagine looking for Ranger news and seeing the field you where you played HS Base ball on TR’s blog. Wow. I played on that field and maintained it much of those years with my teammates from 1972-1975. Pitched against Danny Darwin (from Bonham) and my senior year, received permission from the City Council to paint the bleachers red and white. Outfield fences then were 290′ down the lines and 315′ to Center field. I gave up a few HR’s that were cans of corn in most parks but hey….I loved that field and it usually had Captain Cleveland hanging around to tell us about how he once coached the Owls. Nice story….brought back many memories. I beat Danny btw…..He threw hard but didn’t know where it was going at the time….

Funny. I was thinking about what a wonderful little ball park that was just the other day. Ran into your blog quite by accident while looking for something else about Gainesville. I grew up there but haven’t been back for many years. Sorry to hear they are going to pave it over. Of course, I’ve never forgiven them for tearing down Newsome Daugherty Memorial High School. Seems as if they could find somewhere else to put their apartments. Also sorry to hear that Schad & Pulte is no more. Thanks for writing about it.

On September 13, 2008, in the middle of Hurricane Ike, my husband and I were married over Home Plate at Locke Field. Due to the hurricane, we had to move Home Plate (as well as the entire wedding procession/ceremony) into the stands, but nothing was going to stop us from from tying the knot at a place that meant so much to us. We have been talking lately about things we can do to try to save such an incredible piece of history. It would be such a shame to see another piece of American history be plowed over for apartments that could have been built elsewhere.

I love this town.And I love the history behind it. I would love for us to be able to keep some of it here…

i remenber the zoo being where the old rodeo grounds was because they had a tiger in a cage that i would watch then they moved it to the park

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