Fans ‘take home a piece of history’ ahead of Wichita ballpark tear-down

Fans who have spent years in the seats at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium got to take their little piece of ball park history home with them.

Dozens swarmed the soon-to-be-demolished 84-year-old baseball stadium on Saturday morning, unbolting chairs and unscrewing signs off the walls with whatever tools they had on hand, hoping to “take home a piece of history,” as Director of Wichita Parks and Recreation Troy Houtman put it.

“It’s making people happy,” Houtman said. “That’s what it’s all about. People are getting to keep these lasting memories.”

Like game day, the most popular seats were the front row, heavy-duty blue section fold-down chairs with cup holders, which went fast for $35 a pop. In sections of one to four, the stadium’s seats were dismantled and hauled off.

Some, like Andrew Doggett, had a history with the chairs he chose to take home.

“I’ve had a lot of good memories at Lawrence-Dumont,” Doggett said, “and I’d like to have some chairs to remember those memories by.”

Doggett, who has lived in Wichita for nearly two decades, showed up at the stadium Saturday to buy the section of seats he had sat in hundreds of times through the years.

Doggett, who said he plans to bolt his four chairs inside his home near the front door “like a waiting area,” has seen baseball teams come and go in Wichita.

First, Doggett watched the Wranglers, a Double-A affiliate that called Lawrence-Dumont home from 1987 to 2007. Then the Wingnuts, an independent team, became Wichita’s team.

Through it all, since 1935 when pitching legend Satchel Paige struck out 14 batters to win the first championship, the National Baseball Congress has held its annual tournament at the stadium.

From the stadium’s pending demolition comes anxiety of losing a piece of Wichita’s history, but excitement for the new stadium coming to town.

In September, Mayor Jeff Longwell announced the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Baby Cakes, would be relocating to Wichita as early as 2020. With the new team, comes a new, $81 million ball park and pedestrian bridge across the Arkansas River planned for the area near Maple and Sycamore.

To make room for the new stadium, Lawrence-Dumont must be torn down.

On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council will discuss a development agreement with the New Orleans AAA franchise team to build a stadium with 6,500 to 7,000 fixed seats and a group/party area that could hold another 3,000 to 3,500. The new ballpark would be completed by March 15, 2020.

Lawrence-Dumont, originally Lawrence Stadium, replaced Island Park on Ackerman Island as Wichita’s ball park after a fire and a New Deal project on the Arkansas River forced the city to find a new place for a ball park.

Through lobbying by Raymond “Hap” Dumont, who also helped establish the National Baseball Congress, the stadium was built where it stands today, one of the oldest professional baseball ball parks in the country.

“It’s sad to see it go,” Doggett said, “but at the same time, there’s no amount of remodeling that can bring it up to the same level as the other minor league, and even unaffiliated, stadiums around the country. So, you know, we’ve got to progress on and go ahead and tear it down and build a new one.”

The new stadium will include a NBC Hall of Fame Museum.

Baseball fan and Wichitan Martin Harding said he’s going to “proudly display” his two chairs in his living room to celebrate the stadium’s history, but it also excited about the future of baseball in Wichita.

“What I see here today — it’s going to break a lot of people’s hearts, but I know that better days are coming in the future, in years to come,” Harding said.

Chance Swaim: 316-269-6752, @byChanceSwaim