KALIDA — The four shovels stuck in the ground at home plate for a ground breaking ceremony and the earth moving equipment parked in center field at Kalida’s Holy Name Ballpark on Monday morning indicated updates and changes were coming and they were coming soon.
But first, memories of the first 72 years of the ballpark, of the people who played there and of the people who watched games from its historic grandstand shared the day with a look into the future and what a $2 million renovation will bring.
Phase one of the project will start immediately with the installation of a turf infield and a new grass outfield, which is scheduled to be ready for the 2022 high school baseball season.
Phase two will begin by preserving the original structural framework but installing new seats, new lights, new concession stands, an observation deck and a new exterior finish. The second part of phase two will enhance the area around the stadium, including adding a concrete parking lot and exhibits about the ballpark’s history.
Holy Name Ballpark, which gets its name from the Holy Name Society at St. Michael’s Catholic church, was built for $10,000 in 1949.
It is the home of Kalida High School’s baseball team. But over its lifetime it has also been home to adult baseball games, barnstorming teams of professional athletes, baseball legend Satchel Paige and Negro League teams, women’s professional baseball, and even professional wrestling, with the ring reportedly set up near home plate.
Counting Father Mark Hoying’s opening prayer, 10 speakers talked about Holy Name Ballpark’s future and past before the ceremonial dirt was dug and tossed.
Former major league pitcher Gene Stechschulte, who recalled the thrill of moving up to “the big diamond” from a youth diamond, said, “This is a special place. This is a special day for Kalida.”
Current Kalida baseball coach Chad Ehrnsberger said, “I’m really excited. We’re going to have something special here. This facility is going to be something everybody is proud of.”
The ballpark’s makeover was designed by Brick Street Studio, the Ottawa architectural firm of Jeff Krouse, a Kalida High School graduate who played baseball for the Wildcats.
So, the history of the park and the story behind it were considered every step of the way.
“We’re going to keep the columns and the rafters. That way the original bones of the building, the original historical form is there. And then we’re going to put a brand new roof and all new siding on it. We’re also going to put in new seats and a brand new concession stand. But the original infrastructure will be intact,” Krouse said.
He said his connections to Kalida and Holy Name Ballpark made this a special project for him.
“When you’re designing a building from scratch, that’s one thing, and it is clearly is enjoyable, but when you have all these historic stories and events that have taken place and you get to kind of build the design around that as well, that really is rewarding,” he said.
Joe Recker, a member of the Holy Name Ballpark Committee who was Kalida’s baseball coach from 2014 to 2019, was one of the first people to push the idea of updating the ballpark when he was coaching.
“I was just looking for a grass infield and getting new tile but I didn’t get a lot of traction back then. But I kept badgering. I’m very persistent. We got the right people and the right involvement. God bless the Kalida board of education. They jumped right on board and gave us a little financial boost to get us over the hump. I’m just one very small cog in this machine,” Recker said.
“It is going to be the best, most state of the art facility we can provide for this community,” he said.
Completing the project will require more fund raising, something Recker thinks will be accomplished.
“This community rallies around projects,” he said. Donations can be made online at kalidabaseball.org or to the Kalida Holy Name Ballpark account at the Union Bank in Kalida.