Ball diamonds honour Dickson’s legacy
By Stephen Petrick/Napanee Guide
Posted -46 second ago
Robert Paul says he's proud to have a national fast pitch championship played on the diamond that bears his name. And, while Richard Dickson isn't here to say so himself, he would be proud too, Paul says.
"He would be really, really excited about it," said Paul about his long-time friend, fellow baseball player and Softball Napanee founder, who led Napanee's drive to build two softball diamonds on the Napanee Fairgrounds in the early 1990s.
The two diamonds were completed in 1992. They were then named after Dickson and Paul, shortly before Dickson's death, of lung cancer, in October 2005.
The Richard Dickson diamond is on the west side of the fairgrounds. It will host the marquee games of the Under 23 Men's Canadian Fast Pitch Championships, Aug. 8 to 14, including the Sunday, Aug. 14 championship game. The Robert Paul diamond is on the east side of the fairgrounds.
While the Richard Dickson diamond has more seating around it, the dimensions of both diamonds are the same. They measure 243 feet down the first and third-base lines. The distance between home plate and the deepest part of their centre field fence is 260 feet on both diamonds.
They've also both been subject to numerous repairs leading up to Aug. 8, when players from six teams from across Canada will begin playing with two local teams, the Napanee North Key Construction Express, and the Napanee Shoeless Joe's Express, for national bragging rights.
The town has spent more than $50,000 to repair fences along both diamonds, install a drainage system that will help dry the fields after rain, improve an administrative building behind the diamonds and build a monument to honour six past local national championship teams.
New dugouts have also been built on both diamonds, with $78,000 in funding from an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant to Softball Napanee.
Paul says he is impressed with how those involved with the tournament have helped keep the facilities in tip-top shape.
"I give the town and Kevin [Hill, the Greater Napanee parks, recreation and culture director] a great deal of credit now," he said. "From what I'm seeing, it's in the shape it was in 1992 when we opened it."
Paul noted this tournament marks the fifth time a national fast pitch championship will be held in Napanee.
The fairgrounds diamonds hosted a midget-level national championship in their inaugural year and again in 2002.
Before that, the town's old softball diamond, on King Street, played host to midget national championships in 1982 and 1988.
But this tournament marks the first time Napanee will play host to a tournament above midget level. Paul said this opportunity may not have come to Napanee if it wasn't for Dickson's efforts more than 20 years ago.
The King Street facility was nice, Paul said, but it only had one diamond. Dickson began to work with the town and the Lennox Agricultural Society, the owners of the Napanee fairgrounds, to plan a two-diamond facility.
His vision was to have a facility as good as any other in Ontario; one with plenty of parking for fans, and a picturesque backdrop. Softball Napanee had that as soon as the diamonds at the fairgrounds went up.
Trees line the outside of the outfield fences on both diamonds and there's plenty of additional green space, both south and west of the fields.
"There is some character to this whole facility now," said Paul. "There's not too many in the province that are as nice as they are."
Greater Napanee facilities manager Dan Garrison said the town takes a lot of pride in ensuring the diamonds remain in good shape and never lose their character.
"I think it showcases the town," he said. "It's a beautiful sight; it's a natural sight with the oak trees. It highlights the fairgrounds."
He said two town employees plan to be at the diamonds for every pitch of the championship tournament, to take care of any maintenance problems as they arise. Staff will also groom the infield throughout the tournament and tidy the facility overnight.
"When people come in the morning, it will be spotless," Garrison said.
This work is important, Garrison added, because if Greater Napanee is praised for its work hosting this year's tournament, it increases the town's chances of hosting other tournaments that can help boost the economy of the town.
Paul believes the work the town has done on its facilities has allowed the sport to grow. He and Dickson, who were friends from childhood and once played on the same baseball teams, were involved in the founding of Softball Napanee in the early 1980s.
Since that time, several Napanee teams have competed in and won national championships, including the North Key Express team, which is out to defend its title this year.
"I think success breeds success; it keeps the enthusiasm going," Paul said. "The game is struggling in other areas, but here there are volunteers and coaches willing to keep it going here."