Rifle bids Cooper Field farewell with final game | PostIndependent.com

Rifle bids Cooper Field farewell with final game

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox Retired Rifle Bears baseball coach Gordon Cooper (right) attended the farewell festivities Monday evening in Rifle for the field named in his honor. He and Jack Smith coached the Bears team together for 16 years with Smith as assistant coach. After Cooper's retirement in 1987, Smith continued as head coach for five more years. Though Cooper wore a big smile throughout the evening, he admitted that the closure of Cooper Field was "a little bit sad" for him.

RIFLE – One of Rifle’s classic town amenities is gone. Tuesday evening, the last baseball game was played on Gordon Cooper Field, Rifle’s only baseball field. Cooper Field, located directly north of the Garfield County Fairgrounds, is being turned into a site for the new Garfield County social services building. But Rifle won’t be without a baseball field for long. Equipped with more than $400,000 in funding, a new ballfield is being built at Deerfield Park in north Rifle. The new field is expected to be completed by February 2005. Tuesday night, however, Cooper Field took center stage, er, centerfield, as alumni ballplayers young and old, government officials, donors, families and citizens celebrated the field’s final game with a barbecue and alumni baseball game.

Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert thanked Garfield County Commissioners and Garfield School District Re-2 administrators for providing $150,000 each to build the new ballfield. Lambert also announced a $125,000 donation from EnCana that will go toward the new field.Finding a new site for the county’s social services building, and for building an up-to-date baseball field, has been a long process, Lambert said.’Favorite field’For Gordon Cooper, the namesake of Cooper Field, the farewell celebration was a time for laughs and for remembering years of baseball practice and games on Rifle’s field. “This is a darn neat field,” said Cooper, who was the Rifle Bears high school baseball coach from the early 1960s to 1987. “It’s been a great asset to Rifle. It’s beautiful.””We had teams who loved to come here and play on this field,” said Jack Smith, who was Cooper’s assistant coach before he took over the Bears’ head coaching job in 1987. “For a lot of players, it was their favorite field.”

The field typifies American small-town living. Situated right on Railroad Avenue, Rifle’s main drag, motorists instinctively crane their necks to see who’s playing – and who’s winning. That won’t be the case with the new field, which will be tucked away among the softball fields at Deerfield Park on 30th Street off of Highway 13. ChangeWith the ball field located away from the main part of town, people also won’t have to worry about the occasional stray ball ending up where it doesn’t belong.”There used to be a used car lot where the Bank of Colorado is,” said Smith, motioning east across Railroad Avenue. “There were so many windshields broken over there because of foul balls that they asked us to put up this fence behind home plate. But it didn’t do any good.”Balls could also be found bouncing along Railroad Avenue, and in the horse track that circles the field and fairgrounds.”We couldn’t have a baseball game at the same time as a horse event,” Smith said. “Balls would spook the horses too much.”

Ted Diaz, 83, was on the 1945-46 Rifle baseball team. During that time, the field was simply named the Fairgrounds Field because of its proximity to the Garfield County Fairgrounds. It was as bare bones as you can get.”There was no sod, and no pitcher’s mound,” Diaz said, smiling. “Just dirt.”Since then, there’s been plenty of improvements to the field, but with city space at a premium, the decision was made to replace the field with the county building. “You gotta have change,” said Rifle native Paul Bernklau, who was on the 1951 Rifle Bears baseball team. “And you better accept it, and be positive about it. I saw a sign recently that said, ‘You better take change by the hand, or it’ll take you by the throat.'”Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com

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