*This was a feature story published in the June 4th edition of the Hastings Tribune.
Shimmering light on near flawless grass. The Jericho-like, red brick wall stretching to 408 feet in dead centerfield. And the rumbling of a locomotive on a nearby train track.
These are all sights and sounds associated with Hastings’ historic Duncan Field.
While the confines of Duncan Field have housed baseball greats and Legion baseball regional finals, it’s so much more than that.
It’s also a place that holds a special place in so many hearts.
Ron Koch, who attended Wednesday’s Legion baseball game at Duncan Field during Senior Night, is one of them.
Koch, 61, of Hastings vividly remem- bers a number of fond memories asso- ciated with Duncan Field as both a child, teenager and now as an adult.
“There are a lot of memories here,” he said. “I remember as a little leaguer just roaming around, watching and talking to players. There’s just some- thing special here.”
Koch was a self-proclaimed, rebel knuckleballer, who played both pitcher and catcher for the Hastings Braves and Chiefs teams during the 1970, 1971 and 1972 seasons.
Unlike today’s game, Koch played during the wooden bat era and credited that, in part, to his success on the mound.
“I’m sort of glad we didn’t play with these (aluminum) bats,” he laughed. “That probably helped me out a little.”
Koch especially enjoyed playing in night games at Duncan Field, describing them as “something special.” He recalled the uniqueness of the atmosphere and, specifically, how neat it was to play under the lights during night games.Koch also pointed out that there used to be a “girlfriend” or “cheer- leader” section of the bleachers during his playing days.
He said the most important games he played at Duncan Field came during the 1972 season in which Hastings hosted the regionals.
Despite going 0-2, he was adamant that they “didn’t lose by that much.”
“They were both close,” he said.
After that 1972 summer season Koch traded in his summers of fun and base- ball for a job at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., where he worked for 40 years before retirement.
Soon after the end of his Legion career he was itching to get back on the field, and joined a men’s fast-pitch softball team. Men’s fast-pitch softball turned out to be a competitive outletfor Koch, and he went on to play for 25 years.
Although his Legion baseball playing days were over, he was still able to form memories at Duncan Field watch- ing his son, Charlie, who played for the Hastings Chiefs Legion team from 2000-2004, and coached from 2005- 2009.
Fast forward to Wednesday’s game between Five Points Bank and Norfolk.
Before a batter stepped into the box or the ping of an aluminum bat, yet another memory was made for Koch at Duncan Field.
This time, it came in the form of a ceremonial first pitch.
On this picture-perfect evening, Koch revisited the mound for the first time in some time. Dawning a navy blue Hastings Baseball T-shirt and sun- glasses, Koch wound up and tossed a pitch right into the mitt.
“I just didn’t want to get booed off the mound,” he said afterward. “I didn’t want to take a chance.”