Worth the wait

Our family takes a yearly vacation to northern Wisconsin. We hadn’t even crossed Fort Dodge’s city limits last summer when my 4-year-old daughter asked the question every parent knows is coming.

”Are we there yet?”

We heard it again at the Boondocks. Mason City. Albert Lea. The Twin Cities. Duluth. And of course, everywhere in between.

We pleaded for more patience throughout the eight-hour trip. Found distractions. Made plenty of stops.

As everyone knows, though, the persistence never goes away – even intensifying as the final destination gets closer. And at some point, your own focus begins to waver. Even the adults have to see it themselves to believe it.

As far as metaphors go, this is the first one that came to mind on Friday when I watched the lights finally go up at Ed McNeil Field. I walked over to Dodger Stadium with my kids, took pictures, and basically just wandered around the ballpark with a dumb grin on my face. For a former FDSH baseball player like myself, it was a pretty surreal moment.

Talk about a long time coming. We’re not speaking in years anymore, or even decades. Installing lights has been a hot-button topic in the community for the duration of the venerable complex’s lifespan – 73 years and three months, to be exact. That’s flirting with three generations.

I’m sure that when the Cubs and White Sox christened the Dodger Stadium field with an exhibition game in April of 1942, no one could have predicted the first night game wouldn’t arrive until 2015.

Former Fort Dodge all-state player and championship coach Tom Goodman sent me an old column the other day written by Messenger Sports Editor Bob Brown. It was a rather scathing editorial about the school district’s decision to balk at the installation of lights.

The baseball community’s collective frustration spilled over at this particular Lions Club meeting, as the disconnect between citizens and the local board of education became palpable. A ”chicken or the egg” discussion apparently ensued, as the debate between wants versus needs created a rather tense atmosphere at the event.

The year stamped on the article? 1963. That puts a proper perspective on the length of our town’s mandatory tolerance when trying to provide what has become a very basic service at fields all across the country.

Of course, there is no written rule that baseball lights are a necessity – or even a priority. As a player, I never did mind the early doubleheaders. And as a sports editor, the fact that games were done by dusk always worked in our favor when it came to making a deadline.

With that being said, there are a slew of reasons to shed light on this subject, so to speak.

Local fans will now be able to attend both sides of a doubleheader without leaving work early. Traveling family members from opposing schools won’t have to take virtually an entire day off just to visit Fort Dodge for a 3:30 p.m. start. And the Dodgers will finally host a tournament game at McNeil Field this Friday night; because single postseason contests must start at 7 p.m., the program has been forced to play ”home” tourney contests through the years at Rogers Park.

There are too many individuals to single out when a project like this comes to fruition, but collectively speaking, the current group of parents and program supporters should take a bow. They did the work and walked the walk, showing determination at every potential road block that has stymied groups before.

Kolacia Construction donated the labor for installation of both lights and wiring, which obviously made an indelible difference in the bottom line. The company was backed by a horde of community members who have helped build a very progressive culture within the Fort Dodge Senior High athletic department in recent years.

The first night game is scheduled for Monday, when the Dodgers take on Humboldt. This town deserves an evening of celebration after 73 years of darkness.

Are we there yet? Almost. We’re close enough to see the lights ahead.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net