Volunteers team with beloved groundskeeper to restore historic ballpark

·3 min read

The baseball season may be over, but the teamwork continues in Stratford.

The owner of a painting company has teamed up with other businesses and volunteers to make one man’s vision come true of revamping Stratford’s century-old baseball stadium.

Jessica Elliott, the owner of Powerhouse Painting, said the stadium’s head groundskeeper, Barry Grasby, and his family dedicate countless hours to ensure families and children can play on the historic local field. Now, she and her 21-year-old daughter are pinch-hitting there, too.

“I know he’s wanted it updated . . . to see the stadium return to its glory,” she said. “He wants the children of this community to benefit from that centre because it’s amazing for those kids to be able to play in a stadium.”

Elliott rallied more than 20 volunteers and businesses through word-of-mouth and Facebook posts to help paint parts of the stadium on a recent weekend.

“It’s been absolutely amazing listening to the stories and people recapping like their memories of them even being kids and coming to the ballpark,” Elliott said. “Everybody was in awesome spirits, and everybody was enthusiastic.”

She added: “Barry hasn’t stopped smiling.”

So far, volunteers have finished power washing and parging sections of the stadium and painting the backstop and dugout red and blue, Elliott said.

The National Stadium opened in 1920 and was home to the Stratford Nationals, a semi-pro team in the Intercounty Baseball League that won five titles for the Ontario Baseball Association.

More than 100 years later, the park — or what Elliott calls “the field of dreams” — is still standing and used for the U18 and U22 Stratford minor league baseball teams.

Grasby, a coach and groundskeeper for more than 20 years, estimates he spends between four and six hours each day at the stadium.

“If we didn’t show we were caring and the community was caring to want to save this building, it might come down one day, and I would hate to see that,” Grasby said of the project.

“When kids get to the under 15 (team) and pass through that stage, they know they get to play at Nationals Stadium. And it’s a big thing for them.”

More than $10,000 worth of labour and materials have been donated to the stadium, Elliott said, citing Bobby Steele at Steelecrest Property Care and Jacob VanKooten, owner of JVK Restoration Masonry, as some of the big donors.

For VanKooten, offering his company equipment was an obvious choice.

“I thought it was a good idea to help the community I live in and grew up in,” he said. “My nephew plays for the under 11 Nationals (and) I sponsor that team as well. One day he’s going to playing in that stadium and maybe his younger brother as well.”

John Henwood, a volunteer who’s been there “from sunup to sundown” on most days, Elliott’s brother, Brian, and the Stratford Home Hardware Building Centre also pitched in, Elliott said.

Plans for the 2022 baseball season are already underway, too.

Elliott said that Bobby Steele, who heads Steelecrest Property Care, has committed to maintaining the grounds, and Stratford Metal Products Ltd. plans to build a wheelchair ramp to make the stadium more accessible.

The stadium recently received a donation from a Major League Baseball team. But details of the “surprise” contribution won’t be released until next season, Elliott said.

She said additional sections, like the back fence, are set to be painted in the spring, provided the City of Stratford gives her and Grasby the green light.

“We’re not done painting yet. (We) still have another dugout to do,” Grasby said. “But all the railings got painted and the posts and doors. It just looks awesome. It makes you want to come here now.”

cleon@postmedia.com

-The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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