Though COVID-19 caused the 2020 Wharton High School baseball and softball seasons to cancel, the newly constructed Wharton Tigers Baseball/Softball Complex is now ready for the opening pitch.
WISD Athletic Director Chad Butler said the continued improvements by the district like the Eddie Joseph Memorial Stadium, improvements to the existing baseball field and addition of the softball field could mean more participation from students.
‘Outside of Wharton, people have an image of what they are accustomed to seeing over the past 15 years… and now they show up and see that Wharton is not only progressing, but might even have better facilities than they have.’
“I see that these facilities encouraging more participation from the student body,” Butler told The County Gin. “Whether it’s kids joining baseball, soccer, softball, soccer, track and field, football, drill team, band, cheerleading, R.O.T.C. — each of those have some part in all of this. I think it’s encouraging.”
The complex was not originally budgeted within the district’s $59 million bond; however, the WISD Board of Trustees approved a maximum dollar amount of $3 million for the complex. Under the management of Greg Polasek with Polasek Construction Inc., the project costs were shy of the budgeted amount, totaling $2.8 million.
One major change fans, parents and students will notice before entering the complex’s gates is the concrete parking lot and new fencing surrounding the complex.
“Outside of Wharton, people have an image of what they are accustomed to seeing for the past 15 years,” Butler said. “They may think ‘oh I’m going to go play at that stadium,’ and now they show up and see that Wharton is not only progressing, but might even have better facilities than they have currently. It’s a positive reflection all around to the city.”
Upon entering the iron gates, the baseball field is to the right. Butler said it may not appear that a lot of changes were made on the baseball side, but the additions and adjustments are significant.
“The most significant changes to the baseball side is the fencing and netting around the field, bullpen and battling cages,” Butler told The Gin. “They have also refaced the stands and dugouts, and really did major work to the field itself. There was a slope, almost a drop off in the outfield. So, they leveled out the infield and outfield.”
The complex now has a meeting and changing room for teams to utilize. Before construction, WISD Head Baseball Coach Wade Mathis said it was a very old and unusable building.
“We couldn’t even see through the window of the building because it was so yellowed with age,” Mathis said. “We can now set up tables and chairs for sit-down meetings and discussions. It’s very nice to now be able to utilize an pre-existing building.”
The old concession stand area is still standing to be utilized during Babe Ruth games; however, WISD has built a larger building to be used for high school games.
“The concessions are definitely an upgrade to what we had before,” Butler said. “This is a larger area with more storage and positioned centrally within the complex.”
The biggest and most prominent addition to the complex is the softball field. Before, the high school softball games were held at the little league fields across town.
“This (softball field) area is just so wonderful. I mean, these girls now have a really great field and amenities to boost morale,” Butler said.
The bleachers and batting cage are both covered to help parents and fans enjoy the games without feeling the hot, Texas sun beaming down.
‘Facilities don’t win games, but it sure helps with the excitement.’
“It’s a near perfect setup with the shade and angle of the stands,” Mathis said. “You will catch the breeze and not have the sun shining directly on you.”
Directly behind each dugout is a bullpen for pitchers to warmup in during a game.
“The softball team hasn’t had their own facility for many years,” said Butler. “I am excited for them to have a field all to themselves.”
Even though the fields are not being used, WISD maintenance department, along with Mathis, are working to keep the fields ready to play on.
“We don’t know if Babe Ruth will be using these facilities this year or not,” Butler said. “Everything is day-to-day. With COVID-19, it’s all up in the air.”
“This is awesome,” said Butler. “Facilities don’t win games, but it sure helps with the excitement, enjoyment and encourages kids to want to be a part of it. When people come to play, they get to see what Wharton has to offer. It can change the narrative in their minds of what Wharton ISD has to offer outside of classroom.”
The Wharton ISD Baseball/Softball Complex is located at 602 Old Boling Rd.
Updates to the WISD bond and schedules can be found on the district’s website.
Publisher’s Note: The County Gin would like to thank WISD, especially coaches Butler and Mathis, for allowing us to tour the facility and taking the time to show us around. Maybe I am having withdrawals from not seeing my Astros play, but I have had baseball on my mind. It was refreshing to be able to visit and tour the facilities.