The crowd was quiet — each huddled in their coats and hats as the wind blew across the fields.
Red, white and blue ribbons pegged on fences danced in the early afternoon sunlight as their big brother — the U.S. Flag — led the troupe.
At that singular moment, however, none of that mattered.
Those in the audience knew exactly how their brethren were thinking.
“Wow,” muttered someone from the sea of people.
That was the tone of the time.
Even Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair called the unveiling of an aerial photo picturing the new Timken Sports Complex — one of which will be hung at the local Timken US Corporation operation and the other at the Timken Family Foundation offices in Canton, Ohio — a “Wow moment.”
Sinclair was surrounded at the front gate of the sports complex by representatives from the local Timken operations and some from Ohio as well as Union County Council members, officials from the City of Union and others from the several agencies that helped with the project.
But Friday’s grand opening celebration at the Timken complex was about more than simply recognizing all those who helped the vision become reality. It was also about welcoming the community to its newest member.
“What a wonderful and proud day to say we are Union . . . One cannot help but wow at the seven beautiful fields here when compared to fields children and coaches used in years past,” Sinclair said.
He sees more than that in the complex, however.
“I see the spirit of those fellows that made contributions through the ages,” Sinclair said. “I see the input and impact of community vision and efforts of Rickey Smith, Steve Walton, Jay Allen, Jay Coffer and others. Many will talk of the contributions by Timken, Haemonetics, Disney, BB&T, Col. Jack and Martha Whitener and many others. I do not view the group just as financial contributors to the complex, I see them in the same spirit of the coach volunteers who invest and believe in Union and its future.”
The supervisor added while the state-of-the-art batting cages, mobile mounds and warning tracks are hard to miss at the new ball park, he sees more.
“I more see the growing art of cooperation and community investment and as the Rotarians say and volunteer coaches represent . . . service before self,” Sinclair said. “Let us use those past investments as foundations for the future of Union as we all try to put back in the system and leave Union a little better than we found it as individuals and as a community.”
The ribbon was cut and the crowd was off and running.
Once inside the park, Sinclair led the charge in dedicating several scoreboards and fields — including the main field as the Sarratt Whitener Field.
The field is named for the parents of Col. Whitener and his wife Martha. Whitener played a lot of sandlot ball and also college baseball in his youth and said it was because of those experiences he was able to be where he is today.
He and his wife were proud to be a part of Friday’s celebration and help dedicate the field to their parents. Their grandson, Reid Walker, also was there to help in the ceremony.
“It gives me great pleasure to be part of this today,” Whitener said.
Those sentiments were echoed by the others who fields and scoreboards were dedicated to. Sinclair introduced them each at the place where their marker or name would be placed at the complex — Disney Scoreboard, Rotary Field and Haemonetics Scoreboard.
Once those ceremonies were completed, it was time to eat and take in the park as a whole. For some it was the first time to enter the complex — for others it was like greeting a neighbor.
Union Timken plant manager Howard Trotter watched every inch of the facility being built from across the street. He said the company is pleased with the complex and has been looking forward to Friday’s grand opening.
Bob Hiltbrand, former technology services manager for Timken in Union, returned to the city Friday from his new office as Timken manager of gauging and assembly at the corporate technology center in North Canton for the celebration. It was he, the former Union plant manager and Timken human resources manager Eric Holland who first met with county officials several years ago to get the ball rolling on the complex.
Hiltbrand said the county originally approached him and his counterparts to use the practice fields previously located at the complex’s site and showed him its vision for more. When they approached their corporate bosses about the idea and what the local Timken plant could do, they left it up to the local plant delegation to decide.
“So I decided to donate it,” he said about the 27 acres of land on which the Timken complex currently occupies 10.
Then, when he made plans to ask the Timken foundation for a half-a-million dollar funding donation to help the project, his boss at the time said it wouldn’t happen.
It did and now the rest is history.
Hiltbrand left Union County about 18 months ago for his new Ohio home, but has kept up with the project through his friends still living here.
He couldn’t have been happier to see the finished project.
“I love it,” he said. “This is an awesome complex. This is a fantastic facility.”
Timken manager of community relations Betsy Engels instantly thought “No way” when she saw the artist’s rendition of the sports complex. She’s glad, however, the Union County community pulled together — through economic and other hardships — to make the facility a reality.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Engels said Friday. “It’s really, really great.”
In the end, it was Sinclair who truly summed up the day’s events even before the rest of the ceremonies were finished.
When the ribbon was cut, he offered the county’s welcome to the sea of people waving in the wind like the flag above them and all others.
“Come on in,” Sinclair said. “Have a great time.”