Haverhill Stadium renovation must be finished

By: Mark Behan – July

While watching a recent baseball game at Trinity (formerly Haverhill) Stadium, I was reminded of the movie Field of Dreams. I know: What does a movie made in 1989 have to do with the old dinosaur on Lincoln Avenue? Hear me out.

In one memorable scene from the movie, farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, is walking in his cornfield when he hears a voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come.”

Costner then builds it: a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield. People think he’s crazy for building the ball field, but eventually thousands of folks come from miles away to see games played on the field and everyone lives happily ever after.

And that leads me back to Trinity Stadium.

First off, nothing is ever easy when it comes to Trinity Stadium, which sits in the Riverside section of the city, nestled on the banks of the Merrimack River, a good baseball toss away from Building 19.

I mean, did you know that the concrete fence surrounding the stadium was constructed using salvaged bricks from demolished downtown shoe factories? That’s what you call a fence with character.

For years the stadium was ignored – an aging, deteriorating afterthought. And while it dodged the wrecking ball, its grandstands still crumble today – unfortunately.

Since 2006 the historic stadium, where Babe Ruth once hit a home run, has been under the scalpel for some major upgrades. Two of the five grandstand sections have been repaired; artificial turf has been installed on the football and baseball fields; the locker rooms have been spruced up; ceilings patched; and other structural work completed.

And the stadium has – in about the time it took Costner to plow his cornfield – become a magnet for sporting- and community-related events. As they did in Field of Dreams, lots of people are coming to Trinity Stadium and they seem to care about this place again.

But the reconstruction work is far from finished. Sections of the grandstands urgently need to be repaired. New lights must be installed. The brick wall that surrounds the stadium, along with locker rooms and the parking lot, needs repair work, too. In addition, Trinity Stadium needs a new press box that must include an elevator to comply with laws on accessibility for the disabled.

Yes, this is more than cosmetic work and this renovation will be costly – about $4.7 million, a lot of money for a cash-strapped city.

But Haverhill High School Athletic Director Tom O’Brien – who is also chairman of the Stadium Commission – recently told the Haverhill City Council that if the renovation is finished, Trinity Stadium will have the potential to become a sports mecca in New England and, here’s the kicker, the stadium would pay for itself.

The key word, though, is “finished.”

Built in 1936 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, the stadium has become an icon of the community, a place to bring people together –whether at a football game, a high school graduation or the annual Independence Day celebration.

In addition, Yankee greats Ruth and Lou Gehrig played an exhibition game at the stadium against Holy Cross. And in 1960 the New England Patriots, then the Boston Patriots, held their first intrasquad scrimmage on its field.

By the way, Haverhill was the first city in the country to build a high school stadium exclusively for high schools sports. And the Haverhill High football team captured two state titles (1936, 1955) while playing at then-Haverhill Stadium.

Trinity Stadium not only oozes history, but it is also important architecturally. In designing the stadium, architect James Perkins brought together disparate styles: art moderne and classical revival. It is, folks, not a cookie-cutter stadium.

Trinity Stadium transcends bricks and mortar with tributes to community members: Pike’s Peak (press box), Gobbi’s Gate (entranceway) and Harry McNamara field.

Currently, the stadium produces about $40,000 per year in advertising sales and $25,000 in rental. That’s not $4.7 million, roughly the cost to “finish” the renovation. And we know the tooth-stadium fairy is not going to be placing almost $5 million under anyone’s pillow anytime soon.

But the stadium should leapfrog to the top of the city’s to-do list.

The city needs to find a way to finance the renovation, perhaps taking out long-term loans. It’s worth it, for Trinity Stadium is a special place that has 77 years’ worth of personality and character. It deserves respect and appreciation, and to be “built” back up again.

A “finished” stadium will host about 250 events per year. That’s the hope, as people will flock to Trinity Stadium just as they did to what was once a cornfield in Field of Dreams.

But it needs to be built back up before they will come.