The Alley Heroes: Longtime supporters inducted into Home Run Alley
In the 1960s, a Whitewater Building Materials sign hung on the center field wall at Lincoln Park Field, which was renamed Suplizio Field in May of 1990.
In 1997, Whitewater Building Materials began sponsoring teams at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
The third-generation, family owned business in Grand Junction has been a big part of JUCO, and Whitewater Building Materials is one of four new additions to Home Run Alley.
Home Run Alley, denoted by baseball signs at the back of the left-field bleachers at Suplizio Field, is a hall of fame started in 2005 to honor contributors to baseball in the Grand Valley.
It makes sense for Whitewater Building Materials owners Ed Gardner and his son, Mark, to be among those honored, JUCO Tournament Chairman Jamie Hamilton said.
“They are what is great about this community,” Hamilton said. “Supporting local events and passing that down from father to son.”
Whitewater Building Materials has supported local athletics for years, Mark said, and JUCO was another outlet for community support.
The location of the sign may have changed — it was moved from center field to left to paint the batter’s eye green — but it’s still a source of pride for the family.
“With the board up there on the outfield wall, we may be a local business, but when there’s a championship game, it’s seen nationwide,” Mark said.
HANS AND KATHY SCHMOLDT
Hans and Kathy Schmoldt, owners of Anode Supply in Grand Junction, have quietly funded local projects, including JUCO. The Schmoldts donated money for the stadium remodel project, the JUCO youth baseball clinic and have generally promoted the event.
This has included giving away prime seats to visiting families, Hamilton said.
“Hans will call me and say ‘I have four seats and can’t be there Monday. Can you give these out to a visiting family so they can sit up front?’
“He’ll want us to get in touch with coaches or hosts to give those tickets out so those families don’t have to pay. I tell him he doesn’t have to do it, but he says, ‘They’re our guests and we have to treat them like guests in our community.’ “
Hans said his reason for being involved in JUCO is simple.
“My love of baseball, and my admiration for Sam Suplizio and Jamie Hamilton,” he said.
Hans said he’s donated baseballs to children so they can be signed by players, saying he wanted to make the JUCO experience more personal for children.
“I enjoy having fun at JUCO,” Hans said. “I want to see other people have fun, too.”
Steve Buller was brought onto the JUCO committee to coordinate transportation in the early ‘80s, later dubbed a member of the “young turks” by Sam Suplizio.
Hamilton said he joined the committee one year after Buller and he can remember numerous times where Buller, securing transportation for coaches, players and dignitaries, has made the tournament experience memorable for visitors.
“There have been times teams haven’t been able to fly over from Denver because of weather and he’d make sure buses were sent over to Denver to get them over here,” Hamilton said. “It’s one of those things you don’t necessarily see because it’s behind the scenes, but you get the thank-you letters. People saying ‘thank you for the car. I got to see the monument, the mesa. It was a great experience.’ “
Buller said he started as a 29-year-old with the privilege of helping such a large event.
“Well it started out being a way I could give back to the community in a little way to make the tournament a memorable stay for the teams/umpires/dignitaries,” Buller said via email while he was out of the country.
“Walt Bergman was already a committee member and good friend, Jamie came on the next year, followed by Bruce (Hill) then Darren (Starr). Before you knew it we were known as the ‘Young Turks’ by Sam. Us five were at the ballpark every game helping each other in whatever it took to make sure things went smoothly.
“I look forward to every Memorial Day because the five of us get together and have a great week of baseball and lots of laughs.”
A longtime coach for Gay Johnson’s American Legion baseball team, Beaird had a presence in local baseball.
Beaird coached in the 1960s and ‘70s, leaving a mark on his former players.
Jim Spehar, who nominated Beaird and played for the coach in the ‘60s, said Beaird, in his time, was as much of a baseball force as Suplizio or Hamilton.
“For a bit there, he was Mr. Baseball,” Spehar said. “He was Legion baseball in this community and was as involved with young people in this community as anyone. He coached the team, ran the practice and built the ballfields.”
Spehar said Beaird was sometimes stern, in a way that builds discipline, and recalled a moment playing Legion baseball when he missed a fly ball behind first base.
“I looked at the lineup card for the next game and (Beaird) had penciled me in at third base,” Spehar said. “I wasn’t much of a fielder and his way to rectify that, I guess, was to put me at the hot corner. I caught a relay and threw a guy out at home — more luck than skill, I’m sure — and I was back a first base the next game.”