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Column: Gehring Field jewel of Legion baseball parks

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| May 7, 2009 12:00 AM

With the majestic backdrop of the Cabinet Mountains, a cool breeze sweeping in from the Kootenai River and the pronounced color combination of green grass and red dirt, Lee Gehring Field could be called one of the jewels of Libby.

As one baseball fan told me prior to Friday’s home opener, “This is the best-kept secret in Libby.”

Serving as the home of the Libby Loggers, Lee Gehring Field could easily be called one of the top Legion baseball facilities in the state. Besides a beautiful field, the park offers a full concession stand and gives fans the option of sitting in their own chairs down the first base-right field line along the fence or in the covered stands. A lively sound system adds music and sound effects during the game and an announcer keeps fans informed on lineups and inning summaries.

“If you find fields comparable to ours, you’re talking about Bozeman, Missoula, Helena … somewhere where they have minor league baseball,” Loggers coach Kelly Morford said. “As far as the playing surface goes, it’s second to none in the state.”

Scott Foss, a local chiropractor, puts in hours comparable to a full-time job to keep the field in tip-top shape. In fact, he is so attentive to the field’s condition that Morford said, “we lovingly call him the field Nazi.”

Foss knows every inch of Lee Gehring Field. The grass is mowed every other day all summer long and he works on it from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Over the years, many big events have been staged at the site, including Libby Logger Days at one point in the past. As a result, the outfield has a little character and creates challenges for players. Foss hopes that one day, the funds will become available to tear it out and put in new sod.

Foss first became enamored with the ballpark as a player himself in 1989. That year, Libby re-organized its Legion baseball program after a period of dormancy.

“I used to take batting practice in knee-high dandelions on this same field,” Foss remembered. “We had an all-dirt infield … it was the dust bowl.”

Wanting to create better playing conditions and showing initiative on a community project, Foss and Ryan Schrenk started knocking on doors in 1992 to raise money. They ended up raising $15,000 and both the City of Libby and W.R. Grace & Co. pitched in to contribute to the installation of lights. As a result, night baseball arrived.

Foss has further plans for the field. Fans can expect to see a new scoreboard installed this season. It will measure 28 feet in length and 14 feet high and include more information on the game, including inning-by-inning scoring. The addition was paid for through sponsorship money.

Foss said the next project will be to revamp the dugouts. And at Monday night’s city council meeting, he requested $16,820 for new fencing.

One mainstay of Lee Gehring Field missing this season is Brad Phillips. A longtime fan, Phillips died at age 92 on April 28 – three days before the team’s home opener.

“Whenever we lose a baseball pioneer like that, it’s always sad,” Morford said. “It’s important for our players to know that they represent the community, they represent people like him.”

(Brad Fuqua is managing editor of The Western News. He can be reached at thewesternnews@gmail.com )