Every chance I could in the summer, I would hop on my bike and head over to Fairgrounds Park to see if there was a baseball game being played.
Earlier in the afternoon, Liberal’s Legion baseball team would be playing, and in the evening it would be the Bee Jays.
Sometimes there was someone at the gate collecting admission. I don’t think it was very much, 50 cents or so, not like today where all the games are free.
I would go in and find a spot on the concrete bleachers, sometimes chasing down a foul ball, other times playing along the top of the grandstands.
And I would watch the game and rise to my feet when the crack of the bat sent the ball deep to the outfield.
As I got older I worked with my Uncle Lee Roy Beaty in the summer time, and after a hard days work in construction, he would clean up and stop by my grandma’s house to pick me up and take me to watch the Bee Jay game.
Uncle Lee was an umpire back in the ’60s, and so he sat right behind home plate in the ’80s so he could tell if the pitcher was throwing balls or strikes.
At the end of the season when the Bee Jays would qualify for the national tournament in Wichita, Uncle Lee would make the drive midway through the afternoon, watch the game, and be back in Liberal for work the next morning.
If the game was being played in the morning, as sometimes happens at the national tournament, Uncle Lee would have a radio tuned in somewhere while we were pouring a new driveway or remodeling someone’s home.
The Bee Jays were a natural part of summer in Liberal.
And while the players may have changed from year to year, the Bee Jay tradition always continued.
One year, the Bee Jays were playing the Amarillo Texans, and their fans chartered two buses to come up and watch the game.
Alcohol was not allowed at Fairgrounds Park, but I am sure that rule did not apply on the bus ride to Liberal for this particular group of fans.
They sat right against the fence and rode the umpire most of the night. The Texans rallied to take a lead and that’s when they broke out the huge Texas flag and started waving it.
Liberal fans remained calm and collected until the bottom of the ninth when a Bee Jay rally led to a win, and the Bee Jay fans were as loud as I can ever remember.
A few years ago, during a Fourth of July game against the Pueblo Chieftains at Brent Gould Field, a call that went against the visitors led to the Chieftains’ manager coming out to second, uprooting the base and launching it into the outfield. He was ejected, and his assistant had to put the base back before the game continued.
In all, the Bee Jays have won four national championships and finished second six times. Liberal has the most successful summer baseball program in the State of Kansas.
New chapters to the legend were added with Mike Hargrove managing the team the past two seasons.
We’ve had our share of Major Leaguers come through the program, and we will have more in the future.
One of my prized personal photos was a cool night at the park where I tucked my infant daughter into my shirt and Heather snapped a picture of the moment, and the smile on my daughter’s face was priceless.
What we get are unforgettable family memories of nights at the ball park while watching special talent competing for the Jayhawk League title and a trip to the NBC World Series.
Opening night is Friday. If you haven’t been to the Bee Jay games for awhile, come on out to Brent Gould Field this weekend and enjoy a fun evening of entertainment with the family. Admission is free, concessions are available, and you just might leave with a memory you will treasure forever.
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