Ivey-Watson Field anniversary celebration
What: Gainesville High celebrating 30 years of baseball at Ivey-Watson Field, honoring 1996 state championship team
When: 5:45 p.m. Friday, followed by 6:30 p.m. game vs. Lanier
Where: Ivey Watson Field, 1530 Lee Waldrip Drive, Gainesville
Deuce Roark vividly remembers the transition from playing on the small on-campus baseball field at Gainesville High to Ivey-Watson Field at Lanier Point Park in 1986.
At the previous field, Roark said, every fly ball would be greeted by holding your breath to see if it was a home run. Ivey-Watson was a different story.
“It’s kind of like you stepped up to the major leagues,” said Roark, who was a sophomore pitcher who took the mound for the first game at the field on April 28, 1986. “And you didn’t know if anybody was ever going to hit a home run.”
Gainesville High School will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of Ivey-Watson Friday in a 5:45 p.m. ceremony before the Red Elephants’ 6:30 p.m. game against Lanier High.
The field is named for Ted Ivey and Drane Watson. Ivey was a former local Little League and American Legion coach who was pitching coach for Gainesville High for five years before his 1987 death.
Watson led Gainesville High to its first baseball state championship in 1949 after two other state finals appearances in 1947 and 1948, then helped organize Gainesville’s Little League program in 1952.
Lee Waldrip contributed 25 acres to the park to match a land grant from the federal government.
The school also will offer a tribute Friday marking the 20th anniversary of the 1996 state championship team.
Ivey-Watson was considered the gold standard for high school baseball fields when it opened and continues to draw recognition as one of the best in Georgia.
Victor Menocal, who played on Gainesville’s 1996, 1997 and 1998 state championship teams, said Ivey-Watson was his “second home.” It was the first field in Georgia that he played on before going on to lead Georgia Tech to the 2002 College World Series.
As a sport agent who sees numerous high school baseball fields across the country on a regular basis, Menocal said “I would rank Ivey-Watson up there as one of the best.”
Wayne Vickery, Gainesville head baseball coach for almost 20 full seasons from 1989-2008, won five state titles and 12 region championships while compiling a 470-129 record. He recalled thousands of fans showing up at Ivey-Watson to see his teams earn state championships in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002.
“You’ve got Lake Lanier in left field and Lake Lanier in right field,” Vickery said. “I’m not sure too many people can say that. It’s just a beautiful setting.”
Vickery can recall questions about the school moving its baseball games off-campus back in 1986.
“A lot of people didn’t want us to move. Everybody said it was going to be an inconvenience,” Vickery said. “If you’ve got a (good) product on the field, they’ll come.”
In 12 of the seasons played at Ivey-Watson, Gainesville has reached the state semifinals. The Red Elephants have also claimed 19 region titles in that span.
Roark felt honored to have Ivey as his pitching coach when the team moved to the new field. Roark later served as an assistant coach for Gainesville’s 1996, ’97 and ’98 championship teams that also called Ivey-Watson home. He is now the head baseball coach and athletic director at Lakeview Academy. He said “it was definitely a privilege” to play at Ivey-Watson.
Don Brewer, who coached Gainesville High’s baseball team from 1969-1976, later coached American Legion baseball at Ivey-Watson. He called it a major step up from the on-campus field that was 310 feet from home plate to center field.
“It caused everybody in our part of the country to upgrade their fields,” Brewer said.
Jeff Butler, who covered games at Ivey-Watson for The Times for about a decade, said the hill that wrapped around the back of press box and people lined up in their chairs made for a “stadium effect.”
Butler also recalled the tradition of players, coaches and families jumping in the cove of the lake in right field after state championship triumphs in the 1990s.
Ivey-Watson also played host to the 1988 American Legion Baseball Southeast Regional tournament, something Butler said wouldn’t have been possible without such a nice field.
Vickery said David Presnell and his field crew do a great job of maintaining Ivey-Watson Field. Presnell said the support of coaches, the school system and community all play a vital role in living up to the field’s “high standards.” He has been in charge of maintaining Ivey-Watson and City Park since 2003.
Presnell, athletic fields manager for Gainesville City Schools, said working at Ivey-Watson is a “great honor.”
Vickery encourages all players from the 1996 team to come out for Friday’s festivities, and he will have dinner at his house for the group afterward.
Menocal will always remember the fan support and loud atmosphere at Ivey-Watson.
“Wherever you looked, there was some type of fan surrounding you at that stadium,” he said.
He plans to be in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.
“There’s been a lot of great people to play on that field,” Menocal said. “To be able to share all those memories there, it’s outstanding.”