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20 years later, it's a whole different Legion Field

It was supposed to host the state tournament this week, and many renovations over the years is why Legion Field is such a great ballpark

 

August 7, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

A panoramic view of Legion Field Thursday afternopon shows off the outfield fence, the lighting and the green grass, all of which are a result of major upgrades to the historic stadium over the last 20 years. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Legion Field was set to host the Class A state tourney this summer.

Legion Field is a historic stadium, not just on the Hi-Line, but in Montana, too. Decades of baseball have been in the ballpark on the hill, where memories have been made for many. The rich history surrounding Legion Field is definitely massive, especially when it comes to the work that has been put into the ballpark over the years.

Like many stadiums and complexes, Legion Field went through many different changes throughout time. As the years went on, there were updates that needed to be made to the ballpark. The Legion Field folks see today is quite the eye-catcher and to get it that way, there was a lot of contribution from multiple parties.

But recently, there were to be many renovations and additions added to Legion Field, as before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the nation, the Havre Northstars American Legion baseball club and Legion Field were to host the 2020 Class A State Tournament. Hosting a state tournament is a big deal and Havre head coach Patch Wirtzberger knew that the renovations were supposed to be a big thing.

"When you know you're going to have a big tournament up at your field, you want to make sure that everything is in Grade-A shape," Wirtzberger said. "We have a really nice facility to start with. It's just little things that we wanted to improve so when people come up here they'll say, wow, Havre has a great facility."

Recently, those renovations have been halted, but what about the projects that came before? Since the 1990s, there has been so much work put into the complex for it to get where it is today. New sprinklers, new lights, updated bleachers, renovated facilities such as the bathrooms, additions of new facilities like the bus/equipment barn and much more planned for the future.

But where did it all start?

To answer that, Legion Field has to take a jump back in time.

Mickey Williams has been a big part of Northstars baseball for many decades, and he looked back into the past to some of the earliest renovations for Legion Field.

"I was a part of everything, I guess," Williams said. "I was the coach for the Legion team from '78 to about 2003. Around that time we started with the (underground) sprinklers. That was the biggest thing we started with in about '93 or '94. That was a decent improvement right away. It was a pretty nice field, except the fact that it didn't have any (amenities). But the playing field was really pretty nice."

And that was just one of many projects that kicked off a new look for Legion Field. With a bright future ahead, the ballpark would just keep getting better and better. After some time, there would be a new addition added to the complex, one that would come from a different motivation.

Many Northstars fans remember Brian Fanning. The young man was a bright and shining beacon as a part of the Havre program. Brian Fanning was a bench coach and a contributor to the baseball field and fence work that was put into the complex. After his passing, Dave and Diane Fanning decided to start the Brain Fanning Memorial Lighting Project as a way to remember their son.

The project was a moment that put something fresh into the complex, but it is also a reminder of a great supporter of the Northstars, as well. At the end of the day, Dave Fanning remembers all the hard work that went into it.

"We started the project back in 2001 after Brian passed away," Dave Fanning said. "We were like, ya'know, we should do a memorial for him and the lights came up. We got a hold of this company and they said it would be such and such amount of money. We figured we'd raise the money for four to five years and go from there. We started in 2000 and in 2001 they were already up. We raised the money that quick. It was like $90,000. The sad part of it is was that most of the things that were put up there were mostly for memorials."

The fence in the outfield and along the sides of Legion Field was another big project, one that Barry Remus took by the reins and, along with Fanning and Williams, the ballpark had another new look. Remus was a spearhead for the renovation, which put forward a lot of money to complete. It was definitely a better fence than the old one that was there before, though.

There was a lot of work to make that fence and Remus looked back on just how much fundraising needed to be done to get through it all.

"It started out very interesting," Remus said. "We started talking about doing the fence and there were about three or four of us. We wanted to do it right. We got some prices for wood to see what it'd cost and then were thinking that maybe we could do four eight-foot sections the year to start. We figured we'd have enough to do eight sections, then started telling people that for $100 dollars we could start doing another section. It was funny. We'd be out working on the fence, people would come up to the ballpark and they'd hand us $100. It kept kind of going like that. The board threw us money and, the next thing you know, we were along the outfield and then we thought we could go down the sides. We just kept going and it was just so cool. We had a ball."

Remus elaborated about the fence project, as well as other major renovations and additions that took place over the years.

"The first thing was the fence down the sides to around the infield," Remus said. "I figured out the price of the screws came down to eight cents apiece. I just ragged on anybody who dropped a screw 'cause you had to pick it up. It kind of became of joke of don't drop the screw or you'll get yelled at. Then the next thing we did is we decided we needed to have that barn out there for the bus and equipment. We did that whole barn, then after trying several different things on those bleachers, we knew we had to do something, so I drew up the plan. 20 people worked on the bleachers. We had a good crew for that. The city owns the park, so we had to get the city's approval on it. We had do redo the bathrooms to make sure they were handicapped."

As the days went by, the fence project kept trucking along, as more money was donated, Dave Fanning, Williams, Remus and others worked harder. There was a lot to do to make sure that the new fence was in tip-top shape, but when it came to the Havre baseball community, nothing stood in their way to put up the fence and complete other renovations as time went on.

A lot of work was put into that fence and Fanning made sure to help see that project and many others moving forward.

"I did a lot of the grunt work, like the posts," Fanning said. "Devin Energy donated the pipe and BNSF donated all the material for the brackets. I welded all the brackets onto the post. The fundraiser paid all the money for the screws and everything. Barry had the price of the screws down to the cent. It was pretty amazing. Barry was the ramrod. I spent a lot of time up there working on the stands and the fixing up the batting cages. With that green building up there, we put that up, too. Lot of good times up there."

Of course, the new concourse and concession area was another huge project, much of which was done through donations from many people and companies. And that's just another of the many great renovations that were done at Legion Field, in fact, there have been so many, and so many people involved, there's too many to list in just one story.

As for the other projects that were planned recently to prepare Legion Field for hosting a state tourney, there were more great things that would keep the ballpark on the right track. But COVID-19 stopped that, too, as several renovations and additions this year will have to wait. Regardless, Wirtzberger listed what is to come for the ballpark after the current situation improves.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson An entrance concourse and concession stand is one of the newer renovations to Legion Field.

"We were going to put a new scoreboard up," Wirtzberger said. "But that was halted due to the COVID-19 concern. That's a huge thing for this field. That scoreboard is old and outdated. You just need some other things on there, like pitch count, to help yourself out. It just makes the field look nicer. We also have some projects that we're doing here in the infield to level things out because there's just too big of lips in between third and the grass. Those are two of the major things we're doing. We've already put up new nets and staked the cages down to where they're in top shape. Those are the big things we're focusing on to get us ready to host next year."

The past 20 to 30 years have seen many facelifts for Legion Field. With a lot of projects, renovations and additions put forward, the ballpark on the hill has been a shining example of an excellent sports complex. On top of that, future renovations and additions are hopefully coming sooner rather than later. But, you can count on the fact that when those projects come along, the Havre baseball community will be ready to get cracking.

The people of Havre love Legion Field and looking at its history, it is no wonder why.

 

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