Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Michigan High School Athletic Association historian Ron Pesch of Muskegon and Lakeshore Baseball Club officials are working together to gather images and stories of Marsh Field. The goals are to start capturing the memories and using these items in the future on a website, in print, or in the form of historical placards that could be displayed at the site.

Items being sought are: photographs, game programs, scorecards, home movies and baseballs.

Pesch said they want to capture images of the items, or will accept scans of the images. They are looking for written or verbal memories of the Lassies, Clippers, Reds, Detroit Tigers, football games, traveling road shots and other events that took place at Marsh Field. They include visits by the Negro League teams and Jessie Owens.

Anybody interested in forwarding their Marsh Field memories for the project should contact Pesch at or call him at 231-759-7253.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Neighborhood gets a boost from spruced-up Marsh Field

By Mike Mattson | Muskegon Chronicle
April 25, 2010, 10:33

Muskegon varsity baseball coach Tom Lopez appreciates historic Marsh Field.

He’s heard the oldtimers’ stories.

He’s read articles about the baseball diamond that served as home field to the professional Clippers and Lassies in years gone by.

And he grew up with special childhood memories at the park.

“My dad always brought me to the field,’’ Lopez said. “And I chased foul balls for Les David. He’d pay us a hot dog and a couple bucks to chase foul balls.’’
In recent years, Lopez watched the decline of Marsh Field, which serves as the home field for the Big Reds.

Weeds and dandelions invaded the grounds that Les David once cared for with his heart and soul.

The overall upkeep of the facility diminished.

And the playing conditions bordered on being unsafe. Infielders needed mouth guards and face masks as all ground balls were an adventure.

“There are players who dreaded to play here because of the playing conditions,’’ Lopez said recently after an OK Red home game against East Kentwood. “Everyone in the place knew about the Marsh Field ground ball.’’

Marsh Field, located at the busy corner of Laketon Avenue and Peck Street, simply became a victim of its time.

Obviously, the City of Muskegon has faced shrinking revenue and tight budgets. Officials had more important issues on their plate than the maintenance of a baseball field.

Enter the Lakeshore Baseball Club LLC, which reached an agreement in January with the city to operate, maintain and improve Marsh Field.

Take a visit to Marsh Field and you’ll notice some obvious improvements.

• The stands behind home plate sport a fresh coat of green paint and new green padding.

• Burned out bulbs have been replaced on the light towers.

• Dugouts have been refurbished and include a new step for players to view action on the field.

• Tons of new dirt/stone dust have been added to the infield.

• The scoreboard has been repaired.

• The home plate area and pitching mound were rebuilt.

• Baselines were cut and the place is neatly groomed. Players get to play on a lush green grass surface.

• All games have an announcer and the national anthem is played before each game.

• Ballpark food will be coming soon after inspections are complete, but for now there are basic treats available at the concession stand.

Overall, the best thing about Marsh Field is it’s alive with daily activity.

There are two games a night at Marsh, including high school and middle school action. Summer tournaments are being lined up as travel teams will come to town to enjoy the facility.

Neighborhood residents also enjoy walking and jogging on the paved paths that circle the Marsh Field perimeter.

The spruced up park is now the center of the Marsh neighborhood.

It’s alive with baseball and good clean fun.

Lakeshore Baseball Club officials probably could have built a new spiffy facility somewhere in the suburbs.

But their investment in Marsh Field is a wise decision that means its legacy will continue for many years to come.

“The improvements have been great,’’ Lopez said. “It’s been awesome. Our team takes pride in the field and helped with the cleanup and painting. If they will build it for us, I say let’s enjoy it and take care of it.’’

Friday, April 23, 2010

Coach had his field of dreams

When Muskegon's baseball season ends later this spring, Coach Jerry Eaton will walk off the field with memories and stories from a wonderful 26-year career.

Muskegon Chronicle staff writer
May 19, 1994

Muskegon baseball coach Jerry Eaton motivates the Big Reds in many ways.

But forget about the compliments and criticisms. Eaton still chuckles about his most bizarre ploy in the heat of a game long ago.

"We were playing in Grand Rapids, using wooden bats in those days," Eaton recalled. "We just weren't hitting the ball. I noticed a lot of scrap paper in the dugout. So I put it in a pile and lit a fire.

"Smoke was pouring out of the dugout and the fans didn't know what was going on. I told the kids, 'We're going to warm these bats up, so put them all on the pile.' We loosened up and went out and just pounded the ball. That's a true story."

That's Eaton, the motivator.

That's Eaton, the story teller.

That's Eaton, only the third head baseball coach at Muskegon.

When Muskegon's season ends later this spring, Eaton will walk off the field with memories and stories from a 26-year career.

"I've had 26 years of having fun," Eaton said this week from his Beach Street home. "I've had tremendous kids to work with. I can't ever remember a year not looking forward to practice."

A talented player
Baseball has always been Eaton's favorite sport, especially the pitching aspect.

He fell in love with the game while growing up near Pere Marquette Park. Neighbors could trace thumping sounds to Eaton, who pitched baseballs into a blanket near the side of his house.

"When I was 10 years old, I got a book from my grandfather called 'How To Pitch' by Bob Feller." said Eaton, who was inducted into the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993. "It was my Bible."

Eaton became a Bob Feller-type pitcher. The 1953 Muskegon graduate never lost a decision as a pitcher for the Big Reds.

He'd fire blazing fastballs past hitters, while helping the Big Reds snap Kalamazoo Central's 49 game win streak en route to the 1951 state championship.

"I could throw hard," said Eaton, who delivered fastballs in the high 80s. "I was a thrower at that time. I'd just aim it down the middle of the plate."

Eaton exited professional baseball after two years in the Detroit organization. He married his wife Nancy in 1957 and headed for Western Michigan University for his teaching degree.

And then it was off to Bunker Junior High School, where he taught many subjects in 29 years and coached many sports. He still chuckles about his two-year stint in charge of the golf team.

"I had two girls on the team who could beat me," Eaton said. "They called me the advisor, not coach. That was my idea."

Just call him 'Coach'
In baseball, Eaton is 'Coach.'

The title comes from years of service and dedication.

He's taught hundreds of kids how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball. How to get to practice on time. And how to look and act professional on the field.

Haircuts are mandatory, too. Players always wear a cap at practice. Wearing shorts is a rare treat. Miss practice or arrive late and you pay the consequences under the competitive Eaton, who followed Harry Potter and Ray Ritter as Muskegon' baseball coaches.

Mike Taylor, Muskegon's junior varsity coach. played for Eaton in the early 1980s. He knows quite a bit about 'Coach.'

"He's a disciplinarian, very much so," said Taylor, who has been assisting Eaton for the past seven years. "He stressed to give 110 percent. He only asked that we improve."

One time, a player stole Eaton's master key to the high school at practice. The team ran for about an hour until the guilty player confessed.

"No, we weren't upset," Taylor said. "Everybody respected him. High school baseball is going to miss him."

Taylor still laughs at Eaton's many superstitions. 'Coach' takes the same routes to the field, uses the same scorebook pencil, eats at the same restaurant at the same time and is reluctant to change his socks. "He won't change his routine," Taylor said.

Eaton often lets Taylor coach third base in a move to generate good luck and runs.

Eaton has compiled a 382-213 record, including nine county baseball championships and no district titles. His best team finished 21-2 in the early 1970s, suffering a pre-district qualifying loss to Grand Rapids Creston.

"A kid hit a home run and we lost by a run," said Eaton, who missed his only game this year when his grandson was seriously ill with pneumonia. "I'll never forget that as long as I live. I didn't sleep for a week. The district has been my nemesis."

Leaving a mark
Eaton, like many coaches, has been a father figure to some players.

His toughest job isn't teaching baseball fundamentals. It's other tasks, like informing two players about their fathers' deaths.

That was sad," Eaton said.

Another sad time occurred when high school teammate Kurt Knudson died of leukemia. The family gave the pallbearers, including Earl Morrall and Eaton, identification bracelets. Morrall and Eaton still war those bracelets.

Eaton has sent dozens of players on to college baseball. Many former players still call and write him.

"I got a call about two years ago from a player whose daughter was on a softball team," Eaton said. "He wanted to know how to get his daughter more playing time.

"What did I tell him? 'Be polite. And ask (the coach) what can I do to make my daughter a better softball player?' That's the best way to handle it."

"I know he left a mark on a lot of these people," said Nancy, his wife of 36 years. "I think the dedication Jerry showed all these years has paid off."

Eaton has no set plans for retirement. He'll do some traveling with Nancy, spend quality time with his grandchildren and likely tell plenty of baseball stories.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Marsh Field had a roar of its own

Thousands of fans once packed the bleachers at Marsh Field. Today, the stadium is a shell of its former self.

Muskegon Chronicle Staff Writer
April 25, 1993

The roar of the crowd was deafening when more than 4,000 fans packed into the covered grandstands at Marsh Field to take in an afternoon of America's pasttime.

There were appearances by the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox that brought numerous stars and hall of famers to the storied facility, located at Laketon Ave. and Peck Street.

According to Marc Okkonen's chronology of baseball in Muskegon, 21 Hall of Famers jave appeared in Muskegon including Charley Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane, Harry Heilmann, Johnny Mize and Satchel Paige. The storied past is well-documented by Okkonen in his manuscript called "Baseball in Muskegon."

But, that was all a thing of the past.

The crowds are gone, the grandstand has been demolished and today's stars are amateurs on high school teams and summer city leagues.

Muskegon High School coach Jerry Eaton experienced both the heyday of Marsh Field and the present day when few spectators show up at the field which is merely a shell of its former self.

Eaton, who first played at Marsh Field in the late 1940s in the American Legion leagues, recalls the days of the covered grandstand, the wooden fence and the field caretaker named Henry Connoll, who went by the nickname "Foghorn."

"It was a real thrill to get in here and play," said Eaton. "We used to sneak in."

When the Muskegon Clippers, members of the Central League, faded in 1951, most of Muskegon's baseball had come to an end.

The final women's baseball game at Marsh Field was an exhibition game between the Battle Creek Belles and the South Bend Blue Sox. The game featured former Muskegon star Donna Cook.

One last try at the girls' league failed in 1953.
Marc Okkonen with his scale model of Marsh Field

It was also about that time when the Big Reds began calling Marsh Field their home and it's been that way ever since.

While baseball remained popular among participants, the number of spectators continued to diminish.

The aged grandstand began deteriorating with age and was demolished in 1957.

"The city condemned the stands," Eaton said. "They had it marked off so you couldn't go up high. The next year they tore them down."

The concrete section containing the dugouts as well as the concession stand along the ramp was preserved.

"I tell the kids some of the things that happened around here," said Eaton. "But, it's hard to visualize what it used to be like."

Later, city fathers wanted to finish demolition of the park and turn it into administration buildings or a civic center. However, Charles W. Marsh's deed to the city stated the property had to be used for baseball or the property reverted back to the Marsh estate.

"They wanted to build the county building here, but Marsh was smart," said Eaton.

In stepped the late Les David, who spent the countless hours and many dollars keeping the facility operating. Led David served as coach and commissioner for many years. David, Muskegon's Mr. Baseball, was a fixture at the field.

The job of commissioner of the Inter-City Baseball League remains in the David Family. Leslie Ruth Luttrull, Les David's granddaughter, has been serving as commissioner since David's death on Nov. 9, 1988.

"This is still a nice field," Eaton said. "We're fortunate to be able to play here."

Minor improvements made to field
While the crowds have diminished since professional baseball left Marsh Field, it remains the hub of local baseball activity.

And maintenance of the field remains a high priority with the city's Parks Department.

Any changes or improvements at the field come from the Marsh Field Improvement Fund Tournament. This year's event, scheduled for late August and early September, is the 30th annual.

"Two years ago, we totally redid the infield," said Luann Price, recreation supervisor for the City of Muskegon. "That cost us $10,000."

"There were dips at third base," Eaton said of the old infield. "I give a lot of credit to the recreation department for the maintenance they've done to it."

Rebuilding the press box area and concession stand area are high on the priority list for the future, said Price.

Field remains active
Before Muskegon Catholic Central High School built Sikorski Field, there were plenty of headaches encountered with scheduling games at Marsh.

Catholic, Muskegon, Western Michigan Christian and Muskegon Community College all shared the facility.

"Now that was a mess," Eaton said. "We used to search out places to practice before Sikorski Field was built."

Muskegon Community College also has its own baseball field.

Currently, two high school teams and the Inter-City Baseball League still call Marsh Field home.

The Muskegon Big Reds and the Western Michigan Christian Warriors share the field.

This year, the Muskegon Community College Jayhawks used the facility during the early season because the MCC field wasn't ready.

Next Saturday, the Led David Memorial Baseball Tournaments will commence, with the Class C-D tournament. The Class A and B teams will battle for the county title on May 8.