Opinion: Legion tourney site holds personal memories

Jul. 25, 2014 @ 10:29 PM

Teams from all around the state are invading Holt-Moffitt Field in Lexington this weekend for the American Legion baseball tournament. One lucky team will walk away with memories that will last a lifetime. I personally have many fond memories of the ballpark built in 1938.
Growing up in Lexington, I have attended several legion games at Holt-Moffitt over the years. I always wanted to play on the field that once hosted Major League Baseball great Bobby Bonds. I finally got my chance to take the diamond as a member of the baseball team at Sheets Memorial Christian School. With space limited on campus, all of our home games were played at Holt-Moffitt. Due to how small the school was, beginning in the seventh-grade students were eligible to participate in sports. My seventh-grade year just happened to be the senior year for my brother Nathan. Since there was no junior varsity program, I made varsity and was able to play alongside my brother.
That season Sheets Memorial was scheduled to host the state tournament for the Christian school association we participated in. We were lucky enough to make the finals, setting up a championship game with Lee Christian in Sanford.
I was inserted late in the game at third base, putting me on the field with my brother who played catcher. In the final inning I got the first out on a throw from third to first. After the second out, my brother caught the third strike to set off a wild celebration at the mound. It remains today the only time my brother and I have played on the same team in an organized setting.
Nathan and I held the trophy down the first base line and had a picture snapped to document the occasion. That photo now bares our signatures and still hangs on my mom's wall to this day.
It was an incredible day and one my family still talks about from time to time. But it pales in comparison to the emotions I felt on that very field 15 years ago this month.
All throughout my baseball career I had dreamed of hitting a home run during a game at Holt-Moffitt. Leading up to my senior year of high school, I had failed to accomplish this feat despite hitting numerous home runs at other ballparks.
During the summers I would play Davidson County youth league baseball for Welcome. We played at parks all around the county but never once had a game scheduled at Holt-Moffitt. That is until the summer of 1999 when the Davidson County championship tournament was scheduled to be played there.
It was the first inning of the semifinals played on a hot July morning. I stepped in against a pitcher I had struggled against in the previous meeting. He delivered a fastball to the plate and I sent my bat through the zone. I felt nothing upon contact but could hear the ping of the aluminum bat. The ball sailed toward the giant hill in left-center field and from my vantage point it appeared too low to make it out. I was wrong. The ball disappeared beyond the fence and I trotted around the bases with a whirlwind of thoughts circling my mind.
I had finally done it. My dream was complete. It felt great. Only there was one important part missing that would have made it even more special. My dad.
Earlier that month my father Johnny passed away from a sudden heart attack. Growing up he was my baseball coach on most teams I played for. Even when he was not the coach he hardly ever missed a game I was playing in.
We talked many times about me someday hitting a home run at Holt-Moffitt. I always thought if it ever happened that he would be there to see it. In spirit he was, and I can't help but think he played a part in that baseball sailing out of the yard that day.
In such a difficult time for my family, it was a special moment that was severely needed after the heartache and grief we had experienced leading up to that memorable Saturday morning.
While Holt-Moffitt may not be a field of dreams to many, it will forever be a special place for me and my family.

Sports Editor Zach Kepley can be reached at 888-3631, or kepley@tvilletimes.com.