Reviving a baseball tradition
By Wesley Rice
Five summers ago, the historic Rathert Stadium in Junction City sat empty. Despite having received significant renovations within the past decade, including additional seating, raised wooden decks, and a beer garden, the field hadn’t seen any semi-professional baseball for two-and-a-half years. Former Junction City Councilman and Mayor Cecil Aska sought to change all that.
“I love baseball,” Aska said. “I love the whole philosophy of baseball. To me baseball is life.”
Aska was born and raised in Junction City, and when he was a young boy, he lived right next to the stadium. He recalls that although it’s always had a wooden fence around it, there used to be cement pillars as well.
“Those were in our backyard. We use to climb on them, hop over and there you were,” he said.
Aska played second base and right fielder growing up, and although he admits he never was destined to be a professional, he played a lot of ball all the same. That lifelong connection to the sport and the stadium may have spurred his desire to revive the sport in his hometown.
“I love the whole philosophy of baseball. To me baseball is life.”
“When the Junction City Generals… shut down, [I got] some guys together. We were just talking,” Aska said. “We had the conversation about a half dozen times, and then it was like ‘Okay guys, are we gonna do something to see what it would take to get the team back, or are we just gonna continue to have a beer and talk about it?’”
Their conversations eventually developed into plans, and the Junction City Community Baseball Club was formed. Their goal? To return baseball to its former prominence in Junction City and highlight the time-honored history of Rathert Stadium.
Baseball enjoys a longstanding tradition in Junction City. Records from the time suggest that in 1911 former president Dwight D. Eisenhower played minor league ball as a member of the Junction City Soldiers. And Rathert Stadium was constructed as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1937.
Sporting a limestone structure from local quarries, the stadium stands out as a large, impressive structure in a relatively small town.
Junction City has seen several baseball teams throughout the years. From Parrots to Soldiers to Generals, they’ve all experienced some degree of success. But the Junction City Brigade may just be the most successful of those teams yet.
With eight teams in the Mid-Plains Summer League, featuring many players from surrounding collegiate programs in Kansas and Missouri, competition is fierce. But Aska has managed to build a program that’s not only competitive but dominant. In the four years since it was founded in 2013, the Brigade has averaged a 24-12 record and won the league championship twice.
But despite their success, the most endearing part of the Brigade’s presence in Junction City has been how they’ve affected the community. The team hosts a variety of fun promotions, including a fireworks night, a ladies night, and even a mustache night. They also support the town by teaming with local radio station KJCK, Fort Riley and the Geary County Community Hospital, just to name a few.
“It’s kind of cool out here,” Aska shared, “We kind of have more of a minor league ballpark thing going on here. You got the music going, lots of activity, we have interactions with the fans getting them on there on the field in between innings… Everybody at one point in time needs to come the Rathert Stadium to enjoy a game, it’s just a cool atmosphere.”