A Saanich baseball field considered the “crown jewel” of local ball fields will bear the name of a prominent volunteer.
Council voted unanimously Monday to name the full-sized baseball diamond at Lambrick Park after Joe Stephenson, who volunteered for 18 years for various baseball programs based at Lambrick Park.
It is expected that the naming will take place on April 2, opening day for the Victoria Eagles Baseball Club playing in the B.C. Premier Baseball League.
“It will be a pretty special day,” said Stephenson in an interview with the Saanich News. “It will be a lasting legacy for my family here in Gordon Head and a real honour for me,” he said.
The naming request came jointly from the Victoria Eagles Baseball Club and the Gordon Head at Lambrick Park Baseball Association (GHLPBA). The groups’ co-signed letter credits Stephenson for playing a pivotal role in improving Lambrick Park’s full-sized diamond.
“Its lights, scoreboard, dugouts, batting cage, concession and the fantastic setting foster the ambience of a minor-league ballpark to the delight of the thousands of players and fans who frequent the field every year beginning in March and ending in October,” said Martin Winstanley, chair of the Victoria Eagles, and Stephen Gaskin, president of GHLPBA, in their letter. “The credit for this belongs to…one person above all others — Joe Stephenson.”
According to the letter, Stephenson ascended to the presidency of the Lambrick Park Baseball Association (LPBA) in the fall of 1998, when he “immediately” set to improve the diamond throughout his tenure through fundraising, lobbying and spending his own money, whenever necessary.
“During Joe’s tenure, the LPBA received municipal, provincial, corporate and private donations [totalling] more than $500,000, all of which was spent making Lambrick Park a better place for our kids to play baseball,” Winstanley and Gaskin wrote. “The field is the crown jewel of Saanich baseball parks and it is one of the premier baseball venues in the province. None of this would have happened without Joe Stephenson’s leadership and commitment.”
In 1999, he secured $24,000 of the $32,000 needed to purchase a new scoreboard installed in 2000. When the LPBA funded a new batting cage with rubber floors, lights and a storage facility, Stephenson himself persuaded a local commercial lighting company to donate the batting cage lights and installation costs.
In 2001, Stephenson also helped to persuade council to spend $150,000 towards new lights that allowed for evening games following their installation in 2003.
Subsequent efforts improved the field’s dugouts. “These dugouts were very old, flooded in the winter and were frequently vandalized,” Winstanley and Gaskin wrote. “Moreover, they were too small to hold the larger rosters of the higher calibre teams using the diamond.”
Stephenson, in turn, wanted the dugouts to match the quality of the teams, they wrote. “At personal expense, he visited spring training and major league parks, taking many pictures of Major League Baseball dugout features such as bat racks, washrooms, change rooms which he incorporated into the design of the new Lambrick Park dugouts.”
After months of design, fundraising and consultations, Saanich council approved $150,000 for the new dugouts.
Stephenson also played a pivotal part in attracting the Victoria Eagles to play out of the facility starting in 2010.
Stephenson stepped down from the LPBA in 2012 when it merged with the Gordon Head Baseball Head Association to form the GHLPBA.
With several local youth baseball players and officials in attendance, council members praised Stephenson and his work.
Mayor Richard Atwell said the naming creates an explicit link between the field and the organization.
“This speaks to the heart of our community that is so important in building youth and promoting physical activity, ” said Coun. Susan Brice.
“It is a wonderful experience for my [three baseball-playing] boys,” said Coun. Fred Haynes. “I’m delighted to see this resource shepherded forward by such an incredible person like Joe. I also reflect that we could do more of this. It is not about baseball itself, it is about the community at large.”
Coun. Colin Plant predicts that the naming will be a conversation starter for future Saanich residents to “know what community service means, to give back to the community, which is really one of the most important things we can do.”