They completed the demolition of Derks Field yesterday. The final stake was driven through its heart when Salt Lake mayor DeeDee Corradini unveiled a sign just in front of the hardhat area on the corner of 13th South and West Temple that said: "Franklin Quest Field."
Salt Lake's new baseball park won't be the new Derks Field. For 1.4 million good reasons - one for every dollar Franklin Quest is contributing to the cause - the ballpark will be named after a business and not a person. It makes economic sense. The city gets a lot of non-taxpayer money to defray building costs and Franklin Quest gets a permanent place in the area's consciousness. A perpetual billboard. Any MBA would tell you it's a classic win-win situation.But, still, as the mayor lifted the veil off the sign yesterday, there was a certain sense of loss as the '90s collided with the '40s. Progress does exact its tolls. Just like that, John C. Derks doesn't have a ballpark named after him anymore.
Not that John C. Derks will be heard complaining, or any of John C. Derks's descendants for that matter. As far as anyone knows, the man whose name fronted Salt Lake's ballpark since 1940 left no heirs to the title. There are no Derks's in the Salt Lake phone book. And it's been almost 50 years since Mr. Derks died from stroke complications in 1944.
Before that, however, he was a powerful man, sports-wise, in the community. For 25 years, Derks was the sports editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. In - and sometimes out - of that capacity he was also a baseball crusader. It was Derks who was invited by the Pioneer League in 1939 to help establish a franchise for Salt Lake, a city that had lost its Pacific Coast League franchise a few years before and was in a kind of baseball limbo. It was Derks who secured a man named Eddie Mulligan as owner of the new Salt Lake entry in the Pioneer League. It was Derks who always kept an eye on things . . . at least until the early part of 1940, when the stroke hit him hard and sudden, like a line drive back at the pitcher.
He would never be the same again. His health problems caused sympathy and empathy from legions of friends, since Derks was, as Salt Lake Tribune contemporary John Mooney remembers, "A little round man who smoked a cigar and everybody liked."
Early during the ensuing 1940 season, the Pioneer League Baseball Writers, led by a trio of Salt Lake writers - Mooney of the Tribune, Dee Chipman of the Deseret News and Al Warden of the Ogden Standard Examiner, organized a baseball benefit game at the Salt Lake ballpark, which was known at the time as Community Park.
From some of the proceeds of that game - an exhibition between the Harlem Globetrotters baseball team and the House of David baseball team - the writers talked the city commissioners into buying a plaque and re-naming the ballpark Derks Field. Ceremonies were scheduled for a home game later in the summer, during the height of the baseball season.
"An ambulance picked up Mr. Derks at his rest home that night and drove him to the ballpark," recalls Mooney, who recently retired as the Tribune's sports editor. "He couldn't talk, but he waved to the crowd and they gave him a standing ovation. He was greatly moved. He was a great old gentleman. The park became his tribute."
When he died four years later, it became his memorial.
"Oh no, there will be no mention of Derks Field anymore," said Mayor Corradini, "as of today it's Franklin Quest Field."
The mayor said the city has the plaque commemorating Derks Field in storage. It was salvaged before the wrecking crews leveled the facility this past spring. "We've got all that memorabilia somewhere," she said. "We'll decide what we want to do with it."
Perhaps they'll give it a position of honor in the new park, above a drinking fountain maybe, or next to a concession stand. But one thing is sure: It will not be at the entrance to the park, flanked by big letters that name the park D-E-R-K-S F-I-E-L-D. Those letters will be replaced by the name of one of Salt Lake City's biggest business success stories, a public company that is on the New York Stock Exchange and does business in 130 countries around the world.
"This is a way for us to get back to the community," said Hyrum Smith, the CEO of Franklin Quest, who, when asked about the ballpark's former namesake, said, "Was there someone named John Derks?"
Derks Field had its 53-year run. Call it that next season and they'll ask you to check your day planner.
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