Why JUCO isn’t just about baseball, but is also about community
It’s quite a view from the highest level of that new tower over the center stands at the Stocker Stadium/Suplizio Field complex in Lincoln Park.
While the new facilities have hosted Colorado Mesa University and high school games and graduation ceremonies since being completed a few weeks ago, they’re getting their first real workout this week with the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, or JUCO.
It wasn’t just the scenery I was thinking about while looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows during the Grand Junction Lions Club luncheon on the hospitality level last week. Nor was it the opportunity to share a table and some infrequent but welcome conversation with JUCO honchos Jamie Hamilton and Bruce Hill as they and leaders of other community groups accepted checks from proceeds of our annual Lions Club Carnival.
What struck me was the symbolism — that the new tower that’s now one of the visual focal points of our community really signifies just how much JUCO has become ingrained into our local identity since folks like Dale Hollingsworth, Jay Tolman, Bus Bergman, Hurst Otto and their contemporaries struggled to pull off that first tournament more than a half century ago.
While those early tournament organizers couldn’t envision what JUCO has become, the new stadium centerpiece is a dream that might not have happened without the foundation their early work established.
From the git-go, JUCO was about community partnerships and cooperation. Businesses, local government, schools and the college, service clubs and many others provided the structure that allowed the tournament to grow and succeed.
Along the way, the handful of dollars leftover at the end of that first JUCO multiplied into hundreds of thousands of dollars the tournament pours back into community projects every year.
If you read the JUCO insert in last Friday’s Daily Sentinel, you know that same community spirit went into the stadium construction project.
I remember, as a City Council member back then, when the JUCO committee first came forward with initial plans for the much-needed overhaul of the central stands between the football and baseball fields. There was no doubt the work was necessary. But making a project a reality with what I remember was first proposed as a $14 million price tag just wasn’t in the financial or political cards back then, for a variety of good reasons.
But here we are, enjoying new facilities this week because of the spirit of JUCO.
Like Sam Suplizio, “Mr. JUCO” before him, Jamie Hamilton is a perpetual optimist. (Though, unlike Sam, Jamie will be handicapped in calculating attendance figures because part of the stadium project involved finally establishing a firm count of available seating, a number about one-third lower than Sam used to justify announcing “record” attendance after most tournaments.)
In Jamie’s mind, the stadium project never died, it was just delayed. Ultimately, a tougher economy and revised designs cut construction costs in half, a long-term commitment from the JUCO to keep the tournament here made financing possible, and numerous foundations, community organizations and individuals contributed to complete the necessary funding.
As a result, we collectively own another outstanding community asset, one that will be enjoyed far into the future by generations of high school and college athletes and graduates, their families and supporters, the new minor league baseball team that’ll be housed there, and organizers and attendees at many other events.
I’ve said and written over the years, JUCO is a community social event where baseball games occasionally break out. You’ve read about the all-hit, no-field benchwarmer who wormed his way back into the dugouts as a team host so his now 25-year-old son could be a bat boy and about our favorite team, the San Jac Gators. Those events happen during the ten days around the Memorial Day weekend.
Then there are the other 355 days every year when the partnerships forged around JUCO remain active and benefit all of us, one way or another, in ways that have nothing to do with bats and balls, hits and runs, peanuts, popcorn or Crackerjacks. Let’s take some time to celebrate that this week, along with rooting for our favorite teams, enjoying the fireworks and relaxing in the comfort of the newest addition in Lincoln Park.