MIKE EYSTER/PHOTOS Hamlin Sports Complex is ready to take its place among other iconic sports venues in southern Lane County. The new home of the Bushnell Beacons and Springfield Drifters was made possible by visionary leaders.

SPRINGFIELD – Autzen Stadium. Matthew Knight Arena. Hayward Field.

Hamlin Middle School?

No, this isn’t a game of “one of these things is not like the other.” It’s actually a story about a creative solution to a community need.

With little fanfare, enormous planning, and steadfast collaboration among key partners, a new first-class sports venue is taking shape in the community that will soon become the envy of cities and towns around Oregon.

On Feb. 18, Hamlin Sports Complex at Hamlin Middle School in Springfield will host its inaugural game pitting the Bushnell University Beacons vs. the Corban University Warriors. You read that right: a middle school baseball stadium serving as the new home for local college baseball.

And if that wasn’t impressive enough, the venue will also become the permanent home of the Springfield Drifters, a new baseball franchise of the West Coast League, a premier wooden-bat collegiate summer league with teams in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

In less than a month, the crack of the bat and cheers from fans in the 2,200-seat stadium will become a common sound emanating from the new complex off Pioneer Parkway and Highway 126. The Beacons will compete during the late winter to late spring, and the Drifters will take the field all summer.

The origin of the field wasn’t just to bring collegiate baseball to Springfield, but to develop a community resource that everyone could enjoy and benefit from year-round. 

Two local business leaders –Ike Olsson, president of Olsson Industrial Electric, and Kelly Richardson, president and CEO of Richardson Sports – started talking several years ago about building a field that would enhance sporting facilities around town.

“Ike has been instrumental in building fields for youth,” said Jamie Christopher, general manager of the Drifters, of which Olsson is also the owner. “He built the Rich Schwab Field at Maple Elementary through the foundation he launched called Huddle Up, whose mission is to provide facilities to kids who don’t have access to sports facilities.”

Christopher, who is also the executive director of Huddle Up, tells me that Olsson sought a partner who shared his vision for building a new venue that would become a jewel for baseball games played at the middle-school level all the way up to college. “Ike found the ideal collaborator in Kelly. Together, they created a financial plan back in 2019 to launch the new complex at Hamlin.”

From this starting point, they formed the Springfield Baseball Project and began cobbling together the partnership that would lead toward their goal of a new stadium in town. Obviously, their first critical partner was the Springfield School District. 

“We’ve been interested for quite some time in public/private partnerships that benefit our students and employees,” said Brett Yancy, SPS’ chief operations officer, told me recently. “The Drifters and Bushnell have become great partners, and through a good amount of discussion and negotiation, we are thrilled to now see this partnership blossom into the stadium. With the vision of Olsson and Richardson, the collaboration of the teams and the work of the district, a terrific venue will become a permanent part of Springfield.”

Yancy told me that the district is funding ancillary facilities, such as restrooms, to go along with the stadium so that other teams and students can benefit from the complex. “I think what is most exciting is the fact that both the Drifters and Bushnell are going to partner with our students and coaches to continuously teach and collaborate with our student-athletes year-round.”

For Bushnell, the stadium represents not just a place to play games, but a new home to begin its own legacy. Starting from scratch as a brand-new college team, the Beacons will become the first team to play at the new complex.

Tommy Richards, hired in January 2021, will serve as the first-ever head coach for the newly launched team. He will be tasked with building the program from the ground up after spending the previous six seasons as a top collegiate assistant, including four seasons at NCAA Division III Whitman College in Washington. Richards was a four-year baseball player at Washington State University from 2009-12. 

“I’m beyond thrilled to coach this new team and bring great collegiate baseball to the region,” he told me in a recent phone interview. “Growing up in Central Oregon, my family and I followed my brother during his playing days at Whitman, and I saw first-hand how exciting small-college baseball can be for both players and fans.”

During his own playing career within the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), Richards was lucky enough to play at top-notch stadiums around the west, so he’s extremely pleased with how the field and amenities at Hamlin are taking shape.

“The field is going to be as good or better than almost any field I played on, and the stadium is going to give every fan a great view and an intimate feel at the games. It’s going to be tremendous!”

Richards, like Christopher of the Drifters and Yancy from the school district, is also looking forward to integrating the team into the community and interacting with students from Springfield during baseball clinics and other activities. 

“One of the best things about sports is the sense of paying it forward and for us to have the chance to work with younger kids is something I know every player is excited to do,” he said.

As the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams” extolls: “If you build it, they will come.” Now that the field is nearly complete, the Beacons, the Drifters, and the school district are asking the public to embrace the field they have built.

“I hope that the community will come out to support both teams as much as they can,” said the Drifters’ Christopher. “There is nothing better in the world than a packed stadium that is loud, raucous, and fun. So come on out, get your tickets and peanuts and popcorn, and we’ll see you at the park.”

For ticket and game information for the Bushnell Beacons, go to bushnellbeacons.com/sports/baseball.

For information about the Springfield Drifters, go to driftersbaseball.com.