May 30, 2013
By Kevin Haskin - Topeka Capital-Journal
MANHATTAN — The benefactor who provided the lead gift for Kansas State’s baseball facility is amused somewhat by the history the Wildcats made this season.
The Big 12 championship K-State captured was its first conference baseball title in 80 years. As 1955 graduates, Bob and Betty Tointon just so happen to be 80.
“Maybe there’s something there, I don’t know,’’ Bob said, chuckling.
The league crown is part of a 41-17 run by the Cats, and created the opportunity to host an NCAA regional for the first time. That event begins at 2 p.m. Friday with a sold-out clash between in-state rivals Kansas State and Wichita State.
A general contractor whose company poured much of the concrete for the sprawling Denver International Airport, Bob Tointon knows quite a bit about construction.
Nonetheless, it was surprising the ballpark K-State built would become known as Tointon Family Stadium. The Tointons, both of whom are native Kansans now living on a ranch near Greeley, Colo., never were that fond of baseball.
You did not need to pick up a curve or time a swing, however, to recognize improvements were drastically needed at outdated Frank Myers Field. Especially once the Wildcats moved into the Big 12.
“I really had not paid that much attention to the baseball program, but (former university president) Jon Wefald assured Betty and I this was a priority,’’ Tointon said.
“They did not have a facility that met Big 12 standards and they needed to do something about it. It was actually something we pondered awhile, because there wasn’t the natural tie to some other things we’ve done.’’
Two chairs in the construction science department are named after the Tointon family as a result of donations. In addition, Betty gave generously to the remodeling of Justin Hall, which houses the College of Human Ecology.
But baseball? The Tointons never thought about stepping up to the plate.
Funding for a new stadium had to be creative. Much of the construction and materials were acquired at cost.
Still, there had to be seed money, so the biggest arm-twister among K-State’s fundraisers met with the Tointons.
“Ernie Barrett had something to do with it,’’ Bob said. “He’s got more money out of me for sports programs than I ever thought he would.
“But Betty and I had a very good experience at Kansas State. We’re proud of K-State and especially what they’ve done in the last 25 years, so we decided we’d go ahead and do it.’’
The $5 million makeover they kick-started began after the 1998 season, but not without snags.
“There were people who wanted to scale back, but we said no,’’ recalled former coach Mike Clark, who was instrumental in launching the project. “We knew this was our chance, and what (funding) we were going to get, we were going to get.’’
Delays prompted the Cats to play all their games off campus in 1999, including 44 outside Manhattan as the Cats traveled 17,500 miles. Many of their designated home games, including senior day, were staged in St. Joseph, Mo., where Clark had community ties and worked out a deal to use a stadium in that city.
“He’s the one that didn’t have a stadium, he’s the one who didn’t have the funding,’’ K-State coach Brad Hill said. “He was putting up fences and bleachers, and he was the one ordering port-a-pots for the stadium. That was a battle, particularly against the people he had to play against.’’
Clark was told by friends in baseball not to take the K-State job in 1987. The program was struggling. Funding was minimal. The sport could be dropped.
When he accepted the job anyway, Clark not only coached baseball but also supervised football parking his first two years at K-State. His recruiting budget was $2,000.
“We recruited where we knew people we could stay with,’’ he said.
Yet the program did not fold. Clark coached the Wildcats for 17 seasons. Now, he works in K-State’s athletic administration. He beams watching Hill’s teams execute with precision, bat with discipline and compete with resolve.
He sees a team capable of hosting an NCAA regional ... playing in a facility worthy of that bid.
“I vividly remember Mike’s vision of the stadium, and this was back when he first got there,’’ recalled David Chadd, a former All-American who joined the K-State program the same year as Clark. “You had that great setting behind those trees in the outfield, and he’d talk about his dream for the facility. My concern was would it ever be accomplished."
Skepticism came easily.
Chadd, who now serves as head of scouting as a vice president in the Detroit Tigers organization, remembers the entire team fortifying the left field fence after a strong south breeze knocked it down one day.
And how, after practice, the Wildcats would conduct “rock concerts" — a step-by-step attempt to rid the field of pebbles. Unfortunately, bad hops were the norm.
“I don’t think I was shocked, but I was surprised when I first saw what had been built,’’ Chadd said. “Seeing K-State do well, the facility is a part of it. It’s a big part of it. Then, what Brad has done has been huge. You have to be a good coach and helluva recruiter to build that program, and he’s made the most out of the infrastructure that you have to have.’’
The progress sent Kansas State into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years. And this year, it will proudly play in a home park that needed, and received, a complete overhaul.
Keeping up with it all are a couple of converted baseball fans, Bob and Betty Tointon.
“I’d certainly say this year tops it off," Bob said, “and proves it was a good investment."