In fact, he was such a part of the park that his presence made him largely synonymous with the local softball facility – not only was he the one who ran the place night in and night out, he also saw to it that Memorial Field remained one of the places to play for all levels of fastball and slo-pitch regardless of the challenges it faced.
So when Helland passed away on Oct. 23 at the age of 85 after a short illness, it was only a matter of time before something was done to honour that legacy.
Moose Jaw City Council decided to name the field itself the Lyle Helland Ball Diamond at a meeting in April and on Saturday afternoon, new signage was unveiled that will forever name the park after the legend who kept it alive.
“It’s pretty cool, it’s official now, it’s there for everyone to see, so now play ball,” son Dave Helland said. “It means quite a bit. That ballpark was like family, and people who were there and met him, he was nice to everybody there. I wish he was alive to see it, but it’s pretty special to our family and every time I drive by now there will be a smile on my face.”
Dave carries an extra connection to the park – as a standout catcher for teams that played in the Memorial Field Fastball League over the years, he’s had a front-row seat for Lyle’s decades of dedication.
“Me and Lopez (long-time Canadians teammate Sean Lougheed) were talking about that the other day, it’s been 25 years we’ve been playing down there now. And it’s pretty cool, I’m a grown man and I still had my dad at all my games,” Helland said with a laugh. “That was pretty fun. He was there all the time for me so it means a little extra as well, whenever I go to play ball it’ll be at my dad’s park.”
The unveiling came with the added touch that a Helland family reunion was taking place this weekend, meaning many family members were on hand to see the sign revealed and some even seeing Memorial Field for the first time.
“There were a few Hellands from quite a ways away who had never seen that ballpark, so it worked out kind of good that way,” Dave said. “We actually had a big family game at the unveiling and we were able to get family photos in the outfield and all that, it was pretty neat.”
The fact there was a park for them to check out at all was a product of Lyle’s sheer force of will and charisma – there have been times when Memorial Field wasn’t seeing as much use as in the past and the potential for redevelopment was a strong reality.
“If it wasn’t for my dad, that would have been condos down there right now,” Dave said.
“That’s what the city wanted over the years, thinking ball was dying, but he kept ‘er going for us, gave everyone a Lyle Burger and that was that,” he added with a laugh. “I’m glad he was there, sports was in his blood and he didn’t want that park to die.”
Because of that work, youngsters are once again using the park on a regular basis, with the 11-and-under Prairie Dogs and Canucks baseball teams taking advantage of softball-sized dimensions to call the park home.
“That’s awesome,” Dave said. “There’s a concession and the kids like to have a dressing room and it’s a perfect size for those little guys. So I hope they stay there and play there for years to come.”
The sign wouldn’t have been able to be placed without support from a handful of donors and supporting businesses, said son Dale Helland, who thanked Home Building Centre for supplying the lumber for mounting, Clark Supply and Rental for the use of a lift to place the placard and the Moose Jaw Express for the sign’s design and printing.