Brunette Park: A Place to Call Home
Cathedral High School acquires baseball complex thanks to alum’s donation
Writer & Photographer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
We all have an idea what the word “home” means to us. Over the years, Cathedral High School’s athletic programs have rented a building or facility so that students could participate in IHSAA and club sports programs, but they never really had that home.
No one needs to see statistics to realize what having home-field advantage means to a team and its fanbase. In spite of this, Cathedral outdoor sports programs have adapted well and have had plenty of success with their unique arrangements in facilities around the city.
Everything changed for the baseball program when the city of Lawrence decided not to renew the Cathedral contract for Jesse Hair Field last season. Less than five months later, what seemed to be a dire situation for the baseball program has now become a blessing in disguise for the entire school.
The school will begin a new era with the acquisition of the former Little League headquarters or as the school likes to call it — home.
Cathedral acquired the 35-acre facility through a major donation from Dan Brunette, a 1970 Cathedral graduate, and his wife Betsy. The complex, which includes baseball and softball diamonds as well as offices, parking, an indoor community center, a covered pavilion and press box, will be named Brunette Park. Brunette Park will breathe new life into the school after a period of uncertainty for the baseball program.
For the first time in the school’s 96-year program, they were without a field. For the incoming seniors on the team, the uncertainty of where they would play the 2017 season weighed heavy on their minds as they had their last practice at Hair Field in October when the lease expired. That was until the school discovered that the Little League International Central Region Headquarters was for sale.
“We don’t believe in coincidences,” said Cathedral’s President Rob Bridges. “Home is such an important word. As a Cathedral family having a home and home-field advantage is not something we are accustomed to having.”
But with the purchase of the Little League headquarters, the 35-acre campus literally doubles the size of Cathedral’s 56th Street campus.
“Part of our newly introduced strategic plan includes consolidating locations for Cathedral athletics, and having these great athletic facilities so close to our main campus is a major first step in that effort,” Bridges said. “You don’t always know how it will work out, but you keep the vision in front of you and doors usually open. This was not the way we saw this unfolding, but we now have a home, not just for baseball but for Cathedral Athletics and the school.”
At the official ribbon cutting, Doug Seagraves, the beaming athletic director who brought the property to the attention of President Bridges, talked about what this day meant.
“More than 900 of our students are involved in athletics, IHSAA and club sports at Cathedral High School. It is a big part of what we do, perhaps not the most important, but it is huge,” Seagraves said. “This property brings us the ability to give a home to all these programs in the near future. Very few places could have pulled off what was needed to pull this off. In a very short period of time, we went from not having a baseball home to having the finest baseball home in the state of Indiana.”
Immediately following the official ribbon-cutting ceremony in February, the construction process began on the baseball diamonds. Andrew Christianson, owner of Turf Dawgs and a 1999 Cathedral graduate, is managing construction on the project.
“The entire process to transform the little league-sized fields to IHSAA regulation fields will take about 9 to 10 weeks, weather permitting,” Christianson said.
The milder than normal winter presented the school with a 60-degree day for the ribbon-cutting ceremony in February. There’s optimism that the the project looks favorable for early completion.
“The goal is to give this senior class the opportunity to play at the facility and be the first class to have real home advantage,” Christianson added.
The Cathedral baseball program launched in 1921 and finished out the season with a perfect record of 7-0, setting the tone for the success of the program winning a city championship that first year.
“Cathedral baseball has had to use several fields in the community throughout the program’s 96-year history,” said Jim Mclinn, Cathedral’s Vice President for Operations. “The first field the program used was Riverside Park Diamond #3 for 52 years. When Cathedral moved to the 56th Street campus, the baseball program moved to what is known as “Taco Bell Stadium”, which was located next to Devington Plaza at 46th and Arlington and through the years, several great Cathedral players, like Ray Oiler, the class of ’54 who played for the ’65 Detroit Tigers, played there.
“Over the last 20 years, players like Jake Fox, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, Tommy Hunter, drafted by the Texas Rangers, Dylan Peters, drafted by the Cleveland Indians and Ashe Russell drafted, by the Kansas City Royals all played ball at Hair Field in Lawrence Park, and together these kids have won two state championships, six state finalists and 15 city championships,” Mclinn added. “But today we find Cathedral baseball with its very own ballpark, and it is truly a field of dreams.”
Deputy Mayor David Hampton, spoke on behalf of the office of Mayor Joe Hogsett at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and shared his perspective.
“While this is a great victory for Cathedral High School and the baseball program, this is also a great victory for the city of Indianapolis and particularly the far east side,” Hampton said.
In a bit of irony for the new Brunette Park, the classic movie, “Field of Dreams”, the main character is named Ray Kinsella. Kinsella is an Irish name. While that may be stretching the “Luck of the Irish” a bit too much for some, the vacant property, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, while not in the middle of a corn field, does offer some similarities to the new home for the Cathedral Irish.
Cathedral has waited nearly 100 years to have a place to call home, and now that home is Brunette Park. For Coach Ed Frieje, it’s is an exciting time.
“Our staff is excited, but most importantly, we are excited for the players and the future of Cathedral baseball,” Frieje said.