Bobby Beane remembers playing on Kilgore's ballfields when he was 13 years-old.
Gazing out over the city's new baseball complex on South Kilgore Street Saturday morning, “I look around here and see a number of people that played in those old parks,” he said. “The great thing as I look around here today is I see young men wearing coaching shirts that I had an opportunity to coach.”
The opening of the City of Kilgore's new Whataburger Sports Complex saw hundreds in attendance Saturday morning – old ballplayers taking in the new parks with their young successors, boys and girls getting fresh dirt on their uniforms as parents, grandparents and well-wishers shouted from the sidelines.
“We are extremely excited to actually see some baseball players out on the field now," said Kilgore Mayor Pro Tem Harvey McClendon. "It's been a long transition.
“We started this with a vision for the city a little over 20 years ago. We had a citizens committee of about 25 who got together and worked on the parks master plan and the baseball park for the kids was part of that.”
The City of Kilgore purchased the new ballfields' land and built the facility primarily with 4A(s) funds raised by Kilgore Economic Development Corporation through a half-cent sales tax and set aside for “quality of life” projects. To date, the complex has cost about $2.3 million with KEDC's set-aside funding $1.6 million.
“It's been a challenge, obviously, but it's a perfect location,” McClendon said, “to be next to Driller Park and StreamFlo Park and Harris Street park. It's a great facility, and we're very proud to have it done for the Kilgore community and for the kids.”
Praising the City of Kilgore officials, crews and contractors who built the new complex, McClendon thanked KEDC's current and past leaders for funding the project as well as Whataburger's Doyle Thomas and Jack Moore for committing to an initial decade-long partnership with the city for naming rights.
“We look for a great season and a long time,” McClendon said, joining Beane and Moore minutes later to throw the ballfields' ceremonial first pitches. “Players, it's for you. We hope that y'all have fun and can develop a lot of memories that you'll carry all through your lifetime.”
Members of the community have already been generous in their thanks for Whataburger's support, Moore said.
“It truly is an exciting day,” Thomas said: “exciting for the community, for Little Leaguers, future Little Leaguers for generations to come.
“We've been a part of the community for a long time, but this is over the top. This is the first complex outside of a corporate facility out of all the chains. It was teamwork at its very best. It truly is a dream come true.”
It's been a long time coming, said Kilgore Boys Baseball Association Presidenty Danny Henry.
“We put a lot of work, a lot of thought, a lot of preparation into it. It finally came together and I'm very happy with the way things turned out.”