He built it so that we would come - like our own field of dreams.
Jerry Patterson, the architect of a local landmark that stands as hallowed baseball ground not just among Fort Dodgers but for athletes and teams across the entire midwest, died on Sunday at the age of 74.
Sixteen years almost to the day after being diagnosed with psuedomyxoma peritonei - a rare form of abdominal cancer that Jerry once told me had longer odds of obtaining than winning the Powerball lottery - Patterson passed away at his home.
Messenger photo by Dale Wooten
Jerry Patterson talks to the Garner-Hayfield baseball coach during last summer's St. Edmond Invitational at Patterson Field.
Jerry always said that he treated every day like the ''extra innings of life'' after that fateful day in 1996. Doctors warned him that most survivors of this particular disease were lucky to last five years. He more than tripled that expectancy, despite multiple major operations and a constant struggle to stay cancer-free.
In 1967, Patterson purchased four acres of land on the southeast side of Fort Dodge. That property birthed what later became the Patterson Field complex, which was home to area youngsters toting bats and balls for the next four-plus decades.
''I wanted to build a public ballpark for the community to use,'' Patterson said during a 2005 interview. ''We'd been through and lost a lot of fields in Fort Dodge; I figured this was a good way to start up and keep a permanent location for the area.
''I looked around - I considered the area that is now Ed Barbour Field (north of Iowa Central) and land by the Badger Blacktop, but this spot just caught my attention.''
The 1956 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate devoted nearly 60 years of his life to local youth programs, and Patterson Field welcomed kindgergarteners, semi-pros and everyone in between during his time as host. Former Major League All-Stars Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield cut their teeth as visitors in the facility's formative years.
As Fort Dodge Senior High head coach Matt Elsbecker said on Monday, ''you can't even begin to describe what Jerry Patterson has meant to not only our sport, but in shaping the young people of our community for over half a century.''
''It's an incredibly sad day for Fort Dodge, but at the same time, we should celebrate what Jerry meant to all of us and everything that he accomplished,'' Elsbecker added. ''It's our responsibility now to carry the vision he had for his field and youth baseball into the future.
''That's what we all should emulate and aspire to be: a person who had a tremendous impact when they were here, and who will have a lasting legacy when they're gone.''
Jerry made lemon shake-ups a common thirst-quencher for his visitors, who were treated to trivia questions and soothing music that paid tribute to the days of yesteryear.
The purity of the game to its core.
''Jerry reminded us that baseball should be a fun, relaxing event,'' Elsbecker said. ''He wanted to create a comfortable environment where everyone could forget about everything else and just enjoy just being at the ballpark.
''It wasn't about your age, skill level or background. He just wanted the kids and the fans to have a good time. I'm biased, but I honestly believe - and he did too from the conversations we had - that baseball helped him live as long as he did (after the cancer diagnosis). That's how much love he had for the game in his heart.''
So now we say a regretful goodbye to baseball royalty. More importantly, though, we're losing a great man and a beloved friend. The game will undoubtedly miss him, but Fort Dodge will miss him more.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org