The home of Eldon baseball has been restored.
The home of Eldon baseball has been restored.
A large brick “E” on the concrete sidewalk welcomes you to a ballpark with bleachers capable of seating 300 proudly stating “Home of the Mustangs” and stadium lights standing tall above a smooth dirt infield, complete with a plush grass outfield. Off to the right is brick dugout and a concession stand also made of brick and off to the left is the other brick dug out with a bullpen and some batting cages. All of this is brand new, including the scoreboard, but rest assured the scoreboard still stands in its same exact location out behind the right field fence.
A year ago, McMillen Field looked quite different after a tornado ripped through the town of Eldon and did not spare the ballpark from its path of destruction. The restrooms, press box, dugouts, lights and concession stands were ruined and gave the community plenty to clean up in the aftermath.
But, it is quite remarkable what can happen in the space of a year with the aid of a supportive community and as Eldon baseball coach Chad Hinds looked around at what stood before him on Friday evening, there was certainly plenty to smile about. Eldon officially reopened McMillen Field with a ribbon cutting ceremony and the Mustangs have their ballpark back.
“It is amazing. A year ago today it was the old McMillen Field,” Hinds remarked. “It was rough, but people went to work and got some things done for us. Now, we have this beautiful place here and I could not ask for anything more.”
Baseball has been played on that same exact field since 1931 when Mr. and Mrs. Robert Harvey donated the land to the City of Eldon. In 1997, the field was officially named McMillen field after former longtime Eldon coach Dave McMillen who also served as a scout and sent many players to the professional ranks. His wife, Monica McMillen, was present Friday evening to cut the ribbon and officially open the ballpark back up. Eldon High School has called McMillen Field home for the past 22 years after starting its baseball program in 1998.
A tornado may have caused some devastation, but was not about to erase or change any of that history.
“It is an awesome day for our community,” Eldon Superintendent Matt Davis stated. “We are going to use this field, hopefully, for another generation, another 50 years of baseball in Eldon. Just excited to get it open and get kids out here and playing.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled high school baseball this spring and prevented a trio of seniors from enjoying their final season as a Mustang in a brand new venue. Hinds expected one of them to have the opportunity to set a few new school records.
“Corbin Harrison was probably going to set a lot of the offensive records for us and that is heartbreaking,” the coach said of the senior who will fortunately continue his baseball career at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “We are hoping to have a little season this summer where the seniors can play and hopefully we get that chance.”
The Eldon baseball team certainly did not need to be asked twice when the field became available for practice and Hinds also has two sons who look forward to stepping on the diamond. Davis said the new field will also be available for youth.
“I got two boys and they want to drive by it every day. They’re like, ‘Man, one day we are going to be out there,’” the Eldon coach remarked. “We practiced out here a couple of times already and the boys are just awestruck. They’re like, ‘Holy cow, it finally happened.’ And it is surreal.”
According to Davis, the reconstruction of McMillen Field was a $1 million expenditure for the school district and was aided by a $73,000 donation from the Joe Curtis Estate. The city of Eldon has partnered with the district on a 99-year lease and Davis also took some time to offer thanks for the support of everyone involved, including local businesses.
“We want to thank several people for making this vision a reality,” a press release from the district stated. “We want to thank the Eldon School Board for committing the funds to this project, the City of Eldon for partnering with the school, the Joe Curtis Estate and Quaker Windows for the donation of all the fill dirt. We want to thank Architects Alliance for the design and Verslues Construction for building our field.”
The motto at Eldon is “Together We Rise” and for Davis, the new McMillen field is another example of that phrase.
“A year ago it was destroyed. A year later, we are back and ready to play ball,” he said of a place where thousands of players have enjoyed America’s pastime for the past 89 years. “A year does sound like a long time, but if you look around you can tell this facility is really something to be proud of.”