A History of the Modisett Ball Park
The history of Modisett Ball Park began in 1935 when Sheridan County brothers and ranchers Albert and Mayre Modisett established a trust (enhanced in 1944), which ultimately left a lasting gift to their neighbors. These wealthy cattlemen gave Rushville funds for the purpose of ultimately building several new structures and facilities, including a new city hall and swimming pool, an airport, a men’s club, a golf course, a city park, and a state-of-the-art baseball field to host the game they both loved.
Construction began on the ball park in 1939 with completion and dedication in 1940 before a crowd of 2,500 on opening day.
Modisett Ball Park was the best ball field in western Nebraska, but got a significant feather in its cap in 1954 when Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Braves began holding a baseball school and tryout camp in Rushville. The town’s own Gene Leahy, brother of Notre Dame coaching legend Frank Leahy, knew an executive with the Braves’ organization and was instrumental in bringing their coaches, players, and scouts to give instruction to and take a look at would-be big league players from Nebraska and surrounding states. Young men from the Rockies to the Missouri River and Canada to Texas were put through their paces by baseball greats, including Hall-of-Fame player and coach Paul Waner.
The baseball school was truly a community event. Players and coaches didn’t stay in hotels or motels – they stayed in the homes of Rushville residents providing free room and board to the big-league trainers and their students.
The school included two days of drills and instructions and on the third day two teams of all-stars were picked to play each other. Crowds of 3,000-plus, more than doubling the population of Rushville, were not uncommon.
The summer school continued through the early 1960s, with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels also bringing in players, coaches, and scouts. Several of the players were offered tryouts with the ball clubs and at least one – a lefty pitcher named Dale Hendrickson of Gering, NE – was signed to contract and won 41 games.
Eventually the big-leaguers stopped coming to Rushville, but the Modisett Ball Park continued to serve as the community ball field. Time and the Nebraska climate took their toll on the grandstand, field, and surrounding facilities, and the city did its best within its means to maintain the historic ball park.
In 2013, Rushville Mayor Chris Heiser contacted John Gottschalk about the condition of the grandstand and the need for repairs. John and his wife Carmen, both natives of Rushville, had created a charitable foundation for their diverse philanthropic interests, but John Gottschalk took a particular interest in this project since he played at the park as a boy.
Gottschalk asked Heiser to hold work on the ball park until it had a chance for a proper review. Within a week, he assembled the architecture and engineering team that designed the TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, home of the College World Series. Gottschalk and the HDR Architecture team reviewed the ball park with Heiser, and as a result of the site visit, it was determined that a complete restoration of the aged Modisett Ball Park was in order.
Initially committing $250,000 toward the restoration, the Gottschalk Foundation challenged the Rushville community in December 2013 to raise $100,000 by March 1, 2014. Simultaneously with the community fundraising, Gottschalk committed to raise an additional $100,000 from other donors. Rushville met the challenge, raising more than the amount by the deadline.
Demolition of the old grandstand was completed March 9 and the project bid was awarded to Nemaha Sports Construction of Lincoln. Pre-construction planning began immediately; dedication is August 31. The Modisett brothers’ initial gift served their town for 75 years. With the new construction and an endowment for its preservation, the Modisett Ball Park will continue well into the future.