Fans reminisce, speculate on last day of baseball at Lawrence-Dumont

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Matthew Kelly

Wichita Wingnuts fans stand for the final out of the game Monday, Sept. 3 against the Sioux City Explorers at Lawrence Dumont Stadium. The game was the Wingnuts' last at Lawrence Dumont, the sixth oldest operating ballpark in the U.S.

A lazy pop fly secured the Wichita Wingnuts’ 4-1 victory over the Sioux City Explorers Monday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The ball arched into the overcast sky before settling into second baseman Logan Watkins’s glove, but the future of professional baseball in Wichita remains up in the air.

The Labor Day game marked more than the end of the Wingnuts’ season. It was the final baseball game in Lawrence-Dumont’s 84-year history.

In May, the City of Wichita informed the Wingnuts that the 2018 season would be their last at Lawrence-Dumont — the sixth oldest operating ballpark in the country. With Mayor Jeff Longwell publicly calling for a new stadium and an MLB-affiliated team — the Wingnuts are in the independent American Association — historic Lawrence-Dumont will likely face demolition in the near future.

In the waning innings of Monday’s game, fans reflected on their memories at the stadium and speculated about what comes next for baseball in ICT.

Wichitan Mo Barnhart spoke fondly of attending National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series games as a child. The NBC World Series has been held at Lawrence-Dumont since its inception in 1935. Barnhart said it will be hard for her to let go of the stadium.

“It’s just a lot of family fun and lots of memories,” Barnhart said. “Just everybody screaming and yelling and being close enough to the team — you know, having a small enough stadium so we can actually get down there and talk to the players.

“It’s really sad. I’m trying not to cry right now,” Barnhart said after the last out was recorded.

She said she doesn’t mind the wear and tear of Lawrence-Dumont, but that she and her family will take baseball wherever they can get it.

“I just think it gives it a little more character, but we’ll still be here no matter where they build it,” Barnhart said.

Art Bush started going to games at the stadium in the 50s. He said the city shouldn’t be so fast to replace Lawrence-Dumont.

“It’s kind of sad,” Bush said. “I thought they could remodel it — update it and that would be fine.”

Wichita State psychology professor Rob Zettle agreed with Bush’s sentiment.

“There’s no need to tear up this field,” Zettle said. “They could do something very similar to what they did at Eck Stadium over at WSU — basically keep the playing field and build up stands or a shell of a stadium around it.”

In between puffs on his cigar, Zettle explained why WSU could become the temporary home for the Wingnuts while Wichita invests in a new stadium.

“If there’s going to be minor league baseball next year here in Wichita, it’s going to be at Eck Stadium,” Zettle said. “That’s the only option. There’s no way they’re going to have a new stadium ready.”

Zettle said he would like to see an MLB-affiliated team take up residence in Wichita, but he doesn’t like the city’s prospects.

“I think it’s probably a pipe dream to think if you build it, they’ll come,” Zettle said.

Steve Shaad has worked summers at Lawrence-Dumont since 1987. Hawking beverages in his neon yellow “BEER GUY” T-shirt, Shaad said the ballpark is a special place for him.

“I’ve got a lot of good memories in this stadium, and I’ll be a little upset when they tear it down,” Shaad said. “But I look forward to a new stadium.”

On Monday, the fans Shaad has come to know so well over the years stopped him in between every few transactions to take pictures together.

“People like to buy beer, so it’s not a hard job,” Shaad said. “People like to see the beer man.”

He recalled spending long summer nights with stadium crew.

“We used to work here, then late night, we’d go jump off the Lewis Street Bridge and go swimming,” Shaad said.

He said there’s more to Lawrence-Dumont than meets the eye.

“It’s haunted — people don’t know that,” Shaad said.

“Hap Dumont died here. Three umpires have had their ashes spread here. One umpire died at home plate.”

Shaad said he’s not sure how the ghosts are taking the impending demolition of the stadium.