Stephen Wilkerson wasn’t going to let anything keep him from helping renovate the baseball diamond at Legion Field on Friday. Not even cancer treatment.

The 69 1/2-year-old lifelong Roseburg resident was asked to run the bulldozer on the field to make way for the new artificial surface set to be installed at the stadium. He got asked by Dave York, his pastor at Covenant Life Fellowship in Roseburg who is also the head baseball coach at Umpqua Valley Christian, which won the Class 2A/1A state baseball championship this past spring.

Wilkerson, who is being treated for prostate cancer, had been running the bulldozer since 8:30 a.m. and admitted he’d have started much sooner if he wasn’t scheduled to undergo radiation treatment at 8 a.m. By 12:30 p.m., he hadn’t lost any enthusiasm.

“(York) came to me and said, ‘I asked everyone I know who has construction experience, but they’re all busy,’ Wilkerson said. “So he came to me and asked, ‘Would you do it?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Yeah, in a heartbeat!’”

Wilkerson’s willingness to help has been one of many enthusiastic contributions that have been made to resurface the baseball field at Legion Field with an artificial surface, bringing an end to a project that’s been 1 1/2 years in the making but officially broke ground Friday.

Legion baseball commissioner Jeff Admire estimated that hundreds of people have made contributions to the project, which has had monetary contributions ranging from single-digit dollar amounts to six-figure dollar amounts.

That doesn’t, he said, include the hours of voluntary labor that has ranged from Wilkerson’s time on a bulldozer to manual labor baseball players from Douglas County have contributed.

“It’s been amazing, the community support we’ve received,” said Admire, who has been a Legion baseball commissioner since 2004. “During the first three or four months we had this project going, I was pretty frustrated. I was starting to wonder if anyone here still cared about baseball.”

The project missed the initial date of Aug. 1 — right after the completion of the Legion A state tournament — to start the project. That’s because the Legion commission found out not long after the tournament had finished that Oregon requires a building permit for any project spanning one square acre or more.

The permit request was submitted on Thursday, Admire said. In the meantime, he said, the project can begin so long as the work area doesn’t extend past one acre.

“It’s nice that they’re ready to go now,” said Tom Donegan, also a longtime Legion commissioner. “They’ve had more than a few hurdles they’ve had to clear.”

The first proverbial hurdle came near the Aug. 1 deadline. Scott Shaver, the former coach of the Dr. Stewart’s American Legion baseball team and current coach at Glide High School, got access to dump trucks that could transport Legion Field’s infield dirt to repurpose at Glide High’s baseball field. The trucks, however, were being used at the time to aid firefighters working on the Milepost 97 Fire south of Canyonville, meaning access to them wasn’t available until earlier this week.

In total, Admire said, the project is budgeted for as much as $801,000, which includes around $80,000 for incidentals that may complicate the project’s completion. He said it’s a three-part project that will encompass the entire ballfield.

The infield is only the first part. Admire said if the permit is approved, the project could be completed in time for the beginning of Umpqua Community College’s fall baseball season at the end of September.

Other recent renovations have included the dugouts, which have been redesigned to mirror dugouts at Major League Baseball stadiums, and the outfield walls, which Admire said were installed and painted by members of UCC’s baseball program. Their work fulfilled a rule within the school’s athletic department requiring student athletes to perform community service.

“What better way to do that than to work on the baseball field you’re going to be playing on?” Donegan said.

The artificial surface, Admire said, will have a 10- to 12-year lifespan. In the meantime, Admire said sponsorships have been sold, and are still being sold, to help create a nest egg fund to replace the field close to a decade from now.

Until then, the improvements being made could help make Legion Field a destination ballpark, giving it an allure unlike many ballparks in Oregon.

“In my mind, this place ranks as the best in the state or, at least, it will,” Admire said. “For Central Oregon, or at least the central part of the state, you’d be hard pressed to find another stadium like this anywhere else after this is done.”

Jon Mitchell is a page designer, photographer and writer for The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4214, or at jmitchell@nrtoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJonMitchell.

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