Field of memories
Hearts broke in the valley in October, 2002 when Skylar Hootman, a 16-year-old Gypsum boy who loved baseball, was killed in a Homecoming night car accident.However, when the Eagle Valley Devils baseball team stepped out onto their newly renovated baseball field for their first home game last week against Paonia, it was clear that Hootman’s spirit was still very much present.Acting in memory of Skylar, several dozen local businesses and volunteers donated materials and man hours to refurbish the once dismal home baseball field into ball diamond that is on par with the best in the 3A Slope.Hootman’s mom and stepfather, Susan and Chris Spiegel, were key figures in the field refurbishing.Eagle Valley baseball coach Derek Cordes had first broached the idea of a volunteer effort to redo the field early in the fall of 2002. It seemed like a long shot at the time. Hootman’s death, however, galvanized the community to do something meaningful in memory of the sandy-haired boy who had played catcher for the Devils.The field was completely re-graded, and new dirt was brought in. The pitcher’s mound was re-shaped; spacious concrete dugouts were poured, and the batting cage was expanded. There’s a lot of attention to detail in the revamped field – a grass infield, dugouts aligned to give players some relief from the sun and the same mixture of dirt and ground red brick in the baselines that is used at Coors Field in Denver.A sprinkler system was installed, and sod was laid. Volunteers worked evenings and weekends throughout the spring and then gave the grass a year to establish.”It’s a field we can be proud of. It used to be the field we forgot about,” says Chris Spiegel, who estimates that donated labor and materials amounted to a $65,000 upgrade. Prior to the field make over, the poor quality of the Eagle Valley’s field forced the Devils to drive to Eagle to play their home games on the field at the athletic field complex at the Eagle County Fairgrounds.”This gives us a true home field advantage. You want to play on the field you practice on,” says Cordes, “It wouldn’t have happened without all of the donations of labor and materials.”We like it,” says Devils outfielder Nar Gallegos, who noted that the infield players are still adjusting the grass infield, “It was such a hassle to drive to Eagle. We didn’t like calling that our home field.”But last week was a time for rejoicing, as Hootman’s friends and family gathered to dedicate the redone field. A handsome sandstone plaque identifying the companies and individuals who contributed to the effort is affixed to the side of the Devils’ dugout. Mylar balloons shaped like baseballs, with the New York Yankees logo – Hootman’s favorite team – bobbed in the wind.Susan Spiegel, who cut the ceremonial ribbon, paid tribute to the boys with whom Skylar had played ball, and to the many people who contributed to the field.”This just shows we have a great community. I’ll miss you guys,” she told the graduating seniors who were Hootman’s teammates.Gallegos recalls that Skylar was a good catcher, and a hitter with a different style. He misses the friend who was “kind of our team clown.””He is still a huge part of our team. We suffer every year when we don’t have him, even in summer baseball. We’ve had the same nine people for as long as I can remember … now there’s one gone,” said Gallegos.Cordes agrees.”Oh, yeah. We really miss him. We put his uniform in the dugout, and we all tell him “Hello’ before we take the field. He’s part of our team, without a doubt,” said Cordes.Contributors to the refurbishing of the ball field included Art Hoehn, Aqua Pro, B&B Excavating, Brann Trucking, Calco Concrete Pumping, Cotton Ranch Golf Club, Eagle Valley Foundations, the Gallegos Corporation, Grand Junction Pipe, Gypsum Fire Department, Havener Trucking and Towing, Hedrick Construction, Horizon Roofing, JP Trucking, Kemp & Company, Klahr Construction, Kraig Keltner, LaFarge, Corp., Land Mark Environments, Mid-Valley Concrete, Northstar Lumber, Pioneer Building Material, Rivendell Sod Farm, Rocky Mountain Concrete Pumping, Scott Green Excavating, Signature Signs, Site Resource Management & Crew, Spiegel Construction, Succo Works, The Paint Bucket, Tri-Phase Electric, Vail Resorts Development, and Wagner Rents.This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.