It started all wrong.
In the late innings of the first game played at Sherman Field, the fans were booing the Lincoln A's.
The new $60,000 field opened in 1947 in the southwest corner of town, in what had been an alfalfa field. It was the home of the Lincoln A's, the farm team for the Philadelphia A's. They were facing the Pueblo (Colo.) Dodgers, managed by Walt Alston, and they were getting the short end of a 17-3 loss. The A's finished 42 games out of first place that initial season.
Now, 64 years and more than 1 million fans, 60,000 players and 36,000 games later, Sherman Field is finally getting some major support.
Lincoln mayor and former Sherman Field veteran Chris Beutler, a member of Dugdale Construction American Legion team in 1962, will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday at the ballpark to kick off a campaign called "Sherman Field Forever."
The campaign hopes to raise enough funds to cover the total cost of improvements and to establish an endowment to keep the field up to standards.
"This is such a great chance for all those people who played or watched people play, like I did watching my brothers in high school and my sons, Eric and Alex, play high school and Legion baseball there," said Leslie Gordon, mother of former Lincoln Southeast and NU player Alex Gordon. "I started going to Sherman Field when my husband's father, Charlie Gordon, coached Southeast to the state title. I watched a lot of baseball there and it's always going to be special to me and my family and my friends."
Starting Thursday, fans, former players and those who cherish Sherman Field can purchase ball tiles with names engraved ($150), diamond paver bricks with names engraved ($250) and "Grand Slam Bats" ($500) with team names and sponsors. All the memorials, field history and memorabilia will be displayed in the new entry under the grandstand behind home plate.
"So many people have great memories of playing there in high school, or watching their kids play there, or even going back to the days of the Lincoln Chiefs (who followed the A's)," said Susan Larson Rodenburg, who is managing the fundraising campaign for the Lincoln Parks Foundation.
The campaign includes honorary chairmen Joba Chamberlain and Alex Gordon, Lincoln's only two players now in the major leagues. The committee to help the campaign includes longtime local baseball coach Bill Fagler, now at Nebraska Wesleyan, and longtime Legion baseball coordinator Dick Clarence.
"While the field itself has steadily improved to one of the best in the state, we cannot be proud of the outer structures," Clarence said. "These buildings needed replacement yesterday."
For example, the restrooms have been closed since 2009, replace by portable toilets and a long walk to the midget football field facilities.
The project's total cost is $2.175 million. Essential improvements will cost $1.75 million to meet federal standards for the flood plain, meaning restrooms that can withstand a flood of five feet of water pressing on the walls. Much of the money has been raised, including $445,000 in labor and materials from John Sampson of Sampson Construction, $500,000 from the city of Lincoln, $163,000 in federal stimulus funds and $150,000 from the Lancaster County Visitors Improvement Fund.
The grandstand, press box and roof were rebuilt in 1997, using funds from keno proceeds. Dugouts and lighting were improved for this year's high school season. But much more is necessary if Lincoln plans to compete for the state high school baseball tournament after next season and if the American Legion plans to hold state summer tournaments at Sherman.
"If we can get the thousands of former players and their families excited about this campaign, along with those who remember the great moments at Sherman Field, like Dick Stuart's 66 home runs in 1957, Nellie Fox, Satchel Paige at an exhibition, and the pennants in 1956 and 1957, the campaign can be successful," said Don Bryant, former Nebraska sports information director and former Lincoln Star sports editor, who covered games at Sherman.
Built: 1946-47 ($60,000)
First game: 1947
Grandstand rebuilt: 1997 ($550,000)
Cost of improvements
Total cost: $2.175 million
Cost of essential replacements: $1.75 million
Provided by city: $500,000
Lincoln Community Foundation: $50,000
John Sampson: $445,000 (labor and equipment)
Energy reduction income from stimulus fund: $190,000
List of improvements planned
New public restrooms
New maintenance storage and umpires' room
Reorganization of parking lot with ADA accessibility
New stadium entrance, access plaza
Regrading of infield
Completed or in progress
Fencing and lighting improvements
Sampson Construction: $445,000 in kind, including prefabricated restrooms, dugouts.
Individuals: $150 baseball tiles with name of donor or a favorite player.