Private donors are breathing new life into the Rucker Park ball fields in Mart.
City leaders, Lane Construction, Navasota Valley Electric Co-Op and Baird Electric are dedicating time and money to fixing lighting issues that have plagued the park in recent seasons. Anonymous donors also pitched in $9,000 to the effort to improve the softball, baseball and T-ball fields.
Adam Byrd, with the Youth Baseball Association, said bad lighting has caused problems during night games for the younger players.
The donations also will pay for new awnings in the park. With no trees across the park, the addition of awnings will provide much needed shade for players of all ages, Byrd said.
“We lucked out big-time between the city helping us out and the donations,” he said.
Byrd said most of the association’s board members played ball at Rucker Park growing up in Mart.
The park is a location rich in memories from residents’ youth, not just another ball field, he said.
“We’ve got countless parents and coaches out there working on the field,” Byrd said. “In a month, it will be a whole new world.”
Lane Construction is providing free labor for the project and will rebuild the dugouts and construct metal awnings over the bleachers.
Rick Lane, of Lane Construction, played on the fields as a child and is part of the association.
Mart City Councilman Zac Byrd, Mart Youth Baseball president and Byrd’s brother, said the park has helped the city as a whole.
Hosting tournaments at Rucker Park brings visitors to the area who boost the local economy when they shop or eat locally, he said. The park hasn’t seen a major renovation in years, he said.
Working on the field last week, Scott Hall, also a member of the association, said when he was a child playing on the fields, hundreds of children would come out.
That crowd dwindled through the years, but as his generation started having children, the number of athletes returning to Rucker Park kept growing, Hall said.
“All the dads that once played here are coming back and now bringing their children to play,” he said. “We’re trying to get it back to where parents want to bring their kids here. Hopefully, we’ll get to a spot where we make it great again for Mart.”
Adam Byrd said the park hosted three tournaments last summer, which drew at least 1,200 people. The park also receives regular attendance from home games for local teams.
“It adds up quick,” he said.
Byrd said the fields will be ready to play on by the start of preseason tournaments in mid-April.
Mart Mayor Pro-Tem Henry Witt III said city leaders have always discussed upgrading the fields but have had to focus on bigger projects first, including water, wastewater and streets.
Much of the donations for Rucker Park came from the anonymous donors who helped bring an outdoor movie screen to the historic Chambless Field in 2014.
“It’s actually going to be a lot more elaborate than we thought it was going to be,” Witt said.
Witt said he has fond memories of Rucker Park growing up in Mart. He and his brothers and neighborhood children often played baseball at the park during the summers, Witt said.
His father served as the coach, often driving across the city to pick up any child who wanted to play, whose parents couldn’t drive them there, Witt said.