Park’s ‘Field of Dreams’ becomes a reality

CHARLESTON – If you build it, they will win.

It wasn’t exactly like how Kevin Costner’s character in ”Field of Dreams” heard voices in a cornfield, but Wheeling Park baseball coach Mike McLeod had a vision of his own.

The third-year coach wanted a complex of which his team, and his city, could be proud.

The result was a $230,000 upgrade to the Park baseball facility.

”At the beginning of the season, I told the kids, ‘Listen, I’m going out to beat on doors and I’m going to get people to donate contributions to our field,'” McLeod said. ”And I told them the one thing people don’t want to be associated with is losers.”

McLeod never would have dreamt the events that were being set in motion.

It started with the Patriots claiming their third OVAC title in school history – the first since 2006 – and has escalated to Park earning its first state tournament berth in 25 years.

”I think it dates back to that ‘Field of Dreams’ complex,” said McLeod, who was named the OVAC Coach of the Year. ”Going around knocking on door to door, you never know what the expectation is going to be. I tell you the city just opened up full heartedly for our program and our kids. That’s how you get things done, together. One person doesn’t have to do the majority of it.”

The results of the new complex – complete with in ground dugouts and a press box – have been felt around the entire squad.

”This complex is really nice,” senior Justice Jackson said. ”It makes us feel good. I think it gives us motivation. Everyone expects us to do better because we have this new field.”

Park has lived up to its expectations, which McLeod noted are rather high when you attend The Palace on the Hill.

”When you have the best athletes in the city, you’re supposed to do well,” McLeod said. ”The bar is set high here. I know there’s other schools that win championships, but we have a lot of athletes and we play tough schedules. There’s probably not going to be as many championships, but we’re going to have kids that go to college and turn into fine young men. That’s what I shoot for. It’s not necessarily all about championships. It’s about turning young men into men. That’s what my goal is.”

Park will attempt to continue its ultimate goal, the Class AAA state title, today as it faces Riverside the semifinal round of the state tournament.

”It’s a big accomplishment for us,” Jackson said. ”We’ve been waiting this for a long time. I hope we go down there and execute.”

It’s not just the hope of the team to come home with some hardware, but the city of Wheeling itself.

All week signs have been hung in local business wishing the team luck. After all, the last time Wheeling Park won a state baseball title, the school wasn’t even named Wheeling Park. It was Wheeling High in 1974.

”You look around and there’s signs at T.J’s wishing us luck,” McLeod said. ” Undo’s has one, Bridgestreet Middle has one, Triadelphia has one. It’s nice. When you are the face of the city, people support you. When you’re at the top – no pun intended – people support you.

”The kids love it. Our parents association works really hard. Our kids are really neat kids. They hang out together, they eat together and that’s the kind of thing that builds great programs.”

It’s also the type of thing that builds champions, ones that a team and town can cherish forever.

Tony Viola can be reached via email at: