Posted 11/18/2013 12:00 am
Updated 8 months ago
Momentum is building toward the launch of an extensive facelift of Lamar Porter Boys Club Athletic Field, touted as the oldest active baseball park in Arkansas.
The fundraising effort for the 77-year-old Little Rock landmark gained additional pop when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee and his wife, Kristen, joined an expanding roster of players backing the historic makeover.
The Lees, who make their home in Little Rock, have made a commitment of $300,000 in matching funds over three years to boost the campaign.
“Our goal is keep the momentum going,” Kristen Lee said. “Whether the donations are big or small, every little bit helps.”
As part of this year’s push, the Lees have stepped up to provide a matching gift offer to get funding for the first round of improvements within $70,000 of the full $325,287 budgeted. Toward that effort, the family hosted a fundraising backyard dinner party at their home on Nov. 5.
The phase one work to stabilize the structural bones of Lamar Porter is part of an ambitious four-phase plan to invest an estimated $5.6 million to upgrade the recreational complex surrounding the Billy Mitchell Boys & Girls Club at 3107 W. Capitol Ave.
“This could really be a showplace for the city when we get it all said and done,” said Jay Rogers, chairman of the Lamar Porter Complex Revitalization Committee.
The second phase would get the playing field in tournament-quality shape and position Lamar Porter to host more games and generate more income to help pay its way for more planned improvements. Estimated cost: $1.9 million. (See graphs in slideshow above).
Even as work continues to finish gathering funds for phase one, eyes are turning to the next list of improvements.
Plans are in motion to obtain a matching grant in 2014 to pay for dugout renovations, one of a dozen line items needed to check off on phase two.
Boosters hope to start phase one improvements as early as February if warmer temperatures allow.
There’s talk of building on this summer’s successful fund-raising appearance by Brooks Robinson, Little Rock baseball legend and honorary committee chairman of the Lamar Porter Complex revitalization effort.
In a letter to the committee, Robinson recounted some of his cherished memories associated with the ballpark.
“Having played at Lamar Porter Field from 1952 to 1954 for the Doughboys Legion team, it was truly my favorite place to be when I was growing up.
“It was my second home as I went to Woodruff Grammar School right across the street. I sold cold drinks, worked on the scoreboard and kept score of many games. I was the bat boy for several of the teams my Dad played on at Lamar Porter.
“Not only did I sharpen my baseball skills at Lamar Porter, I even once won a bubble blowing contest there and proudly rode a new bicycle home.
“The memories of playing there and the friendships that I made have lasted all my life.”
What could top the drawing power of Robinson, a Lamar Porter alumnus, 18-time All-Star third baseman with the Baltimore Orioles, 16-time Gold Glove winner, member of the Major League Baseball All-Century Team and more?
Hosting a doubleheader event at Lamar Porter with Robinson and his 1966-71 teammate Frank Robinson, a fellow Hall of Famer, 14-time All-Star outfielder, the first black manager in major league baseball and more.
Reuniting the Robinsons, who helped Baltimore win the World Series in 1966 and 1970 and four American League pennants, would be a stellar bill to advance the Lamar Porter cause. But it’s still in the talking stages of possibilities.
Star power from the past with Brooks Robinson and the present with Cliff Lee is helping expand the fan base of the ballpark and broaden its foundational support beyond individuals with ties to the park and organizations such as the Jim Elder Good Sport Fund.
The demise of Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field, built in 1931 and replaced by a parking lot in 2012, served as a catalyst to ramp up the effort to update and restore Lamar Porter.
“After losing Ray Winder, we all got a knot in our stomach: What’s left?” said John Greer Jr., principal at the Little Rock architecture firm of Witsell Evans Rasco.
“We have something reminiscent of the old baseball days, and we want to keep it alive for future generations. We have some real energy in it now to make some real headway into the fundraising.”
What started as a wish list for Lamar Porter slowly grew into a full-blown master plan for the complex, enhancements that would appeal to the baseball community as well as the surrounding Stifft Station neighborhood.
“We really want to do our part,” said Kristen Lee. “This is a community thing.”
She became aware of Lamar Porter this summer and went to check it out. Teams from the RBI League were playing. Lee liked what she saw and heard.
The combination of a historically significant ballpark hosting teams composed of players with varied athletic ability and financial means was compelling.
“What better game to play for fun than baseball?” Kristen Lee said.
Her enthusiasm brought her husband into the picture and opened the door to other major league connections through their network of friends.
“That would be something we would possibly pursue,” Kristen Lee said.
On tap is expanding the financial ties with Catholic High School and Episcopal Collegiate School, which use Lamar Porter as their home field for baseball.
Loyal boosters have kept Lamar Porter going over the years, fueled by memories of its heyday and glory days on the diamond.
The Lee family represents a new generation buying into the dream of restoring its luster.
“It’s really a gem,” Kristen Lee said. “We’re all in.”
Lamar Porter Field Facts
- Home Field: Catholic High School, Episcopal Collegiate School and the RBI League (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities)
- 1,500-Seat Grandstand: Part of a $122,244 complex largely built through the federal Works Progress Administration.
- First Season of Play: Summer 1936, Boys Club teams
- Not Just Baseball: Hosted World Series of Softball in 1949
- Claim To Fame: Brooks Robinson, Hall of Fame third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles (1955-77), grew up playing baseball at Lamar Porter.
The ballpark is named in memory of Lamar Porter, a 20-year-old local boy who was killed in a car wreck on May 12, 1934, while attending Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.
His family purchased the wooded site in 1935 and donated the land to the Little Rock Boys Club for recreational purposes to benefit the city’s youth.
The complex originally included a lighted softball field, four lighted tennis courts and a playground. The clay tennis courts were replaced by a small ball field over the years.
The project is a legacy of a New Deal program that put unemployed Americans to work improving the country’s infrastructure during the Depression.
Lamar Porter Boys Club Athletic Field was named to the National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 6, 1990.
For more information on Lamar Porter and the fundraising effort visit LamarPorterComplex.com.