Fair Grounds Field left us a long time ago

We would finish laying out the Shreveport Journal’s Saturday edition about 10 a.m. and instead of going home, I would go in a different direction. There was something I had to see.

This was 1985-86 and I had to get a look at what was being built on the east end of the Fairgounds. Almost every Saturday, I would just drive by and sit in my car and marvel at what was being built before my eyes. Just to see the weekly progress was enough to whet my appetite. I’d stay for maybe 10-15 minutes and then head home, knowing that it was one week closer to being a reality.

And now it is 2022 and what came to be known as Fair Grounds Field will become a destruction site instead of a construction site. I’d love to say that my emotions are at the same level about this as they were more than 35 years ago — just in a different direction — but they aren’t.

I said goodbye to Fair Grounds Field a long time ago.

There are a great number of things I have experienced that I count as blessings and many of them have come from life simply putting me in the right place at the right time. The mid-1980s intersection of SPAR Stadium, Fair Grounds Field, the Shreveport Captains and sports writing is certainly one of those.

Quite by accident, I became the PA announcer at SPAR Stadium in 1983 and continued in that role for the next two years. The pay wasn’t great ($14 per night!), but I loved baseball and covering the team, plus I got free hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches.

But thanks to a bond proposal (that barely passed, by the way), $3.5 million was allocated to build Fair Grounds Field. Though I loved SPAR Stadium – my third-grade birthday party was there … I got Joe DiMaggio’s autograph there … the first seed of being a sports writer was planted there (long story) – it was time to move on.

I was a little surprised to be asked back to be the PA announcer — $35 per game! — but honored nonetheless.

In anticipation of the opening of FGF, I was sent to Arizona to cover the Captains’ spring training. The team was shaping up to be almost completely made over from ’85, but the guys who were going to come back in ’86 were aware of how big of a change was in store.

They had no idea.

Shreveport had no idea.

I will never forget standing in front of the Captains’ dugout with a few of the players when the gates opened at 5 p.m. (an hour earlier than normal) and saw fans literally running in to get a general admission or beer garden seat. The place was full in 30 minutes.

I have always said the biggest accomplishment in Shreveport baseball history wasn’t that 7,213 people showed up on April 14, 1986 for the first game at Fair Grounds. It’s that 1,527 people showed up on April 15. (The year before, the second-night crowd was 330.) That’s when I knew this was going to be the real deal.

For the next five years, I continued as the PA guy (“the shortstop, number 1, Tony Per-ez-CHI-CA!”) and had a blast.

But I came to realize that it wasn’t the stadium that made a difference. It was the people and the relationships that Fair Grounds Field brought about: Getting to know the players … sitting in the manager’s office discussing strategy … looking down into the crowd and watching the fans enjoy the night, even if they didn’t know their hats from second base.

My son got to be one of the Little Chickens as part of one of the San Diego Chicken’s routines. After games, I’d walk out of the player’s entrance and watch as little boys asked for autographs. I saw the look on faces of players leaving the manager’s office after they had just found out that their dream had come true – they were going to the big leagues.

Life took me in a different direction in the 1990s and later in the decade, it took Fair Grounds Field in one as well. In 2002, I attended a game at the now-renovated stadium after the ownership change had turned the Shreveport Captains to the Shreveport Swamp Dragons.

That wasn’t the only noticeable change. There were fans in attendance that night (sadly, the team averaged 431 fans per game that year), but the greater sense of emptiness throughout the stadium was obvious. The marriage between Shreveport and minor league baseball was over.

I should have felt nostalgic.

I should have felt sad.

I should have taken a moment to take one last look when I turned out of the parking lot that night.

Instead, I turned right.

Untended Fair Grounds Field set for demolition