Springdale area Little Leaguers celebrate Lampus Field's 45th anniversary
To many, a baseball field is merely dirt and grass, along with bases and a home plate.
But to those in the Lower Valley area, Lampus Field in Springdale is a community treasure.
The iconic field celebrated its 45th birthday on Sunday, as Lower Valley Little League observed opening day festivities for the facility that opened May 4, 1969.
“It's a gift, a gem for our community,” said Lower Valley Little League president Brad Swink. “The 45th anniversary is a nice milestone, I think it's exciting.”
The field, directly across the railroad tracks from R.I. Lampus Co. and Railroad Avenue, has stood the test of time.
Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday was Don Lampus, company chairman and son of R.I Lampus, former company chief. The elder Lampus threw out the first pitch on opening day in 1969.
“This place has lasted longer than Three Rivers Stadium,” Don Lampus quipped as he walked off the field Sunday.
Lampus Field is located adjacent to Veterans Memorial Stadium and Gen-On Field, a recently-built facility located between the football field and Lampus.
The field has a small-town atmosphere as two Norfolk Southern trains passed by beyond the left field fence in the prelude to the opening day ceremonies.
Young players for nearly a half century have experienced the field.
“It's good here, I like it when the trains runs through,” said Billy Lawrence, 8, a fourth-year Little Leaguer.
The field, with routine dimensions, seems large to the younger set.
“I like how there's a lot of room to roam here,” said Mason Gent, 7, a first baseman for the Pirates team.
Cub Scout Troop 554, based in Springdale, raised the American flag Sunday beyond the outfield fence while the National Anthem played from the press box, built as part of the field overhaul after the 1968 season.
The main difference at the field from its inaugural 1969 season is lights that were installed in the 1990s, again with a community effort that included donations of materials and labor from the former Duquesne Light Co. in Springdale.
This gives the Little League the opportunity to play two games per night on the field.
From the beginning
The site is the location of the former Varhovy Field, which served the league since its origin in 1960.
But after the 1968 season, Lower Valley president Frank Basilone and vice president Alex Korponay wanted to create a big-time facility.
Korponay approached the R.I. Lampus Co. and worked to get the block and labor donated.
“I think Alex Korponay spent more time in my office than I did,” said Don Lampus.
R.I. Lampus eventually agreed to supply the block and the labor and the infield and outfield was sodded and electronic scoreboard was installed.
Even today's youngsters are aware of the field's history.
“It's kind of cool to play in a place where so many players have played,” said middle infielder Joey Wylly, 9.
Little League officials from the Alle-Kiski Valley and Williamsport were on hand.
Then-District 26 Little League administrator Norm Flemm was so impressed with the field, he awarded early-round state playoff games to Lower Valley.
Bob Tatrn broadcast the first game on WKPA radio.
A Springdale businessman put up $50 for the first player to hit a home run.
The slugger turned out to be Bob Korponay, Alex's son.
But the younger Korponay couldn't accept the $50 because it would jeopardize his Little League and, ultimately, his high school eligibility.
That $50 in 1969 would be worth $423 in today's dollars.
Even without the $50, the younger Korponay did well for himself. He played for Mount Union College in Ohio and was a 1978 All-American selection.
George Guido is a freelance writer.