Tuesday, January 14, 2014
WEST, Texas (AP) — Scott Podsednik played high school baseball on a since-abandoned field in the shadow of a fertilizer plant that exploded last April in the former major league outfielder's small Central Texas hometown.
A "Keep Out" sign is posted on the fence below the ripped-up scoreboard. Light poles are down on the field separated from the cleared plant site only by a railroad track, and next to a park that will be renovated with a new playground and a memorial for the 15 people who died in the explosion.
The Rangers, who have made a $50,000 donation for West City Park, made a caravan stop Tuesday in the town of about 2,800 people less than 90 miles from their home ballpark.
"The Rangers organization has stepped up in more ways than one," said Podsednik, who was drafted by the Rangers before playing for seven other teams over parts of 11 major league seasons. "They've been incredible, very generous, very classy. West is a sports town, and there are plenty of Rangers fans here. I'm sure that they've made a lot more fans with these acts."
After the explosion last year, the team collected tens of thousands of essential items for West victims and residents, along with gift cards and $40,000 in cash donations at Rangers Ballpark. Players donated cash and equipment, and Major League Baseball also gave $100,000 to relief efforts. More than 1,000 individuals from the town later attended a City of West night at a Rangers game last July.
"It's amazing. ... If there's something that can come of this good, it's the show of humanity that's been shown to citizens of West," Mayor Tommy Muska said. "Such a gracious and generous donation by the players, and by the Rangers organization, and especially for the children that they helped with the baseballs and the equipment. That's really the heart of it."
A fire truck was parked outside the West Community Center, where players Mitch Moreland and Tanner Scheppers joined other members of the Rangers organization and were met by about 100 school children. That truck, with No. 27 on it, was donated last year to West's volunteer fire department by Lance Berkman when he was playing for Texas.
"You live that worst day of your life, and then you have to look at the positives, and the Rangers have been a huge positive," said Jennifer Schaffer, the city secretary.
That community center is about two miles down Reagan Street from the park site, where traffic cones and broken glass sit on the tennis/basketball courts that will be redone. The mayor said about 50 new hours are under construction near that park.
The town's baseball fields are now behind the community center, where signage on a water tower recognizes Podsednik for being a 2005 All-Star and World Series champion. He hit the game-ending home run in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series against Houston.
When the explosion occurred, Podsednik was about 90 minutes away at his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His wife was on the telephone at the time with his mother, who lives about seven miles outside of West.
"I talked to my mother on the phone about an hour later. What I remember from her voice was just disarray," he said. "It was really tough to put into words what that was like. It was tough for everybody."
Podsednik, who still has vivid memories of playing baseball there growing up, said the town is going to bounce back.
"We have, we've started that rebuilding process," he said. "It's a chance for us to not only to rebuild the structure, but the spirit, and I think that's happening here."