TERRE HAUTE —
In a fitting tribute, the Terre Haute Parks Board on Wednesday voted to name a softball field in a city park for legendary baseball great and native son Tommy John.
The softball field at Spencer F. Ball Park on the city’s north side was formerly the home of several ball diamonds, including the field where John played his final high school game before joining the big leagues, said Bruce Rosselli, director of recreation for the parks department.
Rosselli said he has known John for more than two decades and feels naming the diamond for the baseball legend will help inspire young athletes in the neighborhood.
John is “knocking on the door” of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Rosselli added.
“I can’t believe it’s never been done anywhere before [naming a field for John],” said Mike Webster, parks board chairman, during Wednesday afternoon’s meeting at the Torner Center in Deming Park.
John was born in Terre Haute in 1943 and played baseball for Gerstmeyer High School before joining the Cleveland Indians. His big league career lasted 26 years, among the longest in the sport’s history, Rosselli noted.
After playing for the Indians, John pitched for the White Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Athletics and Angels.
“There are no baseball diamonds that I’m aware of in the nation named after Tommy John,” Rosselli said.
Rosselli told the board he hopes to have a large event honoring John and dedicating the field in his name in October. John, now 70, is expected to be in Indiana at that time and could make the trip to Terre Haute, he said.
“We would like to have a huge event for him,” Rosselli said after the board meeting in Torner Center at Deming Park.
The diamond at Spencer F. Ball Park is now for softball. But it is also the same diamond where Gerstmeyer once practiced, Rosselli said. Garfield High School’s baseball team practiced at a nearby field that is no longer in existence, he said.
Spencer F. Ball Park, located at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, is named for civic leader Spencer Ball, who lived from 1856 to 1917. He was the publisher of the Terre Haute Gazette.
John’s 288 career victories rank as seventh-highest for any left-handed pitchers in major league history. He is also known for a revolutionary surgery that was performed on his left arm in the early 1970s. That surgical procedure now bears his name.
So, in addition to a special surgery, John now has a baseball field in his hometown named in his honor.
Rosselli also hopes to make further improvements to the ball field in the coming months.
“Whatever we do [in honor of John], it has to be first class,” Webster said.
n The board also voted Wednesday afternoon to accept a bid for approximately $99,000 to resurface a portion of the Oakley Playground at Deming Park. The vote was to accept the bid if funding for the project can be secured.
Recreation Insites, a Fishers-based company, had the low bid for the job, which will be guaranteed for 15 years, said Eddie Bird, superintendent of the parks department. There were two higher, competing bids, he said.
The resurfacing will affect only the portion of the Oakley Playground dedicated to the youngest children, Bird said. The work is expected to take place this fall and will take about one week.
The Oakley Foundation has expressed an interest in helping with the resurfacing, said board member Gordon Bryan.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or email@example.com