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He and Eileen stopped and looked at the pheasants. Uh, baseball practice, Bobo—at four o'clock. "We'll get there," he said.
Bailey Field looked beautiful. Lushly sodded from pole to pole, the field was unmarked, a sea of perfect green. An eight-foot-high red plywood fence 330 feet down the leftfield line stretched in a semioval to 400 feet in dead center and then back to 330 feet in right, WASHINGTON STATE was scripted in white on the fence in left-center, COUGARS in right-center. Ten-year-old evergreens dotted the hills beyond the fence. The dugouts were made of cedar. In the stands were 25 boxes, each seating four to six people. Brayton personally markets these boxes each winter to local businessmen. In addition, the stadium had 3,500 gleaming bleacher seats. There is no nicer Class A ballpark in the land, and probably not a better one in Double A. Kevin Costner's house may not be behind the first base stands, but this is Brayton's field of dreams, where you step back in time, in many ways. It feels good.
Brayton had wanted a place like this ever since he took the Washington State job. However, the university was having enough trouble keeping up with the Pac-10 in other sports, never mind building a new baseball stadium. Finally, in 1979, Brayton borrowed $20,000 from the bank as seed money and set out to make a deal with Sam Jankovich, the Cougars' athletic director at the time and now the CEO of the New England Patriots. Baseball backers will build the place, Brayton told him, if we're allowed to fund-raise to buy the materials. Fine, Jankovich said.
Brayton succeeded. He got the money for bleachers from donations. More than a dozen farmers and townspeople, along with some paid contractors, poured the concrete foundation for the stands, built the dugouts and sodded the field—working whenever they could, often after dark with car headlights turned toward the nascent diamond.
The next year, with the field and bleachers in, Brayton kicked off his Farmers for Lights project. If farmers didn't have money to donate toward night baseball, they were asked to pledge bushels of wheat. "Some old Cougars gave 600, 700 bushels, and we'd make $5,000 after harvest, when the crops were sold," says Brayton. The lights went on in 1984.
Brayton twice has had heart bypass surgery, the second time in December 1987. Bad timing. That was when he had to get a new outfield fence built. Just had to. From his hospital bed after the operation, he called one of his loyal Pullman guys, farmer Girard Clark Jr. "Can you get some guys together and finish that outfield fence for me?" Brayton asked.
"I didn't realize that he meant he wanted it done now," recalls Clark. "But when he called me back a couple of weeks later and asked how it was going, I knew he meant now—for this season. So I got a crew together, and we got it done."
Phil Hinrichs, a pitcher for Washington State from 1978 to 1979 and now a grain trader, drove a semitrailer all night long to get the wood. "Why'd you drop everything to build Bobo a fence?" Clark is asked. "Good question," he says, laughing. "I guess because he's one of us."
"Why'd I build the stadium?" says Brayton. "I wanted to set the standard. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to give something to a place that's been so good to me. You know what a great school this is? Washington's big and diverse, a great place to recreate. The hunting and fishing are super. You meet people for the first time, there's a smile on their faces. They want to help you."
Through the years Brayton has had feelers from Arizona State, cross-state rival Washington and two other colleges. "You want to know why I've never left?" he says. "It's the people. You don't party with 'em. You don't go to their houses. But when it comes time, they're always there."