Just seeing them play ball… that was enough!

Just past the museum, on the other side of the road, on Highway 26 is the Barrie Sports Complex. 117 acres of sports mecca, all devoted to people who love ball… baseball, softball, slo-pitch, soccer, football… ball!

This complex is the envy of out-of-town teams. This year, the Pavilion that pulls is all together is complete.

The man who conceived of the idea, worked tirelessly through the bureaucratic and political process to make it happen, was honoured and thanked publicly for his vision and his energy on Sunday afternoon. The sun was peeking through clouds, the ball fields were quiet, and a handful of people came to stand before a memorial and give public thanks to Gerry Ray.

Gerry Ray loved baseball.

It was that simple, really. He was the volunteer scheduler for Barrie Minor Baseball, trying to juggle too few fields for 1200 kids. That’s what sent Gerry to Alderman Rob Warman back in 1992. It took seven years, countless meetings and commitment as Gerry and Rob Warman drove all over Barrie looking for land to develop into a baseball complex. They found it… 117 acres just outside of Barrie, across from Springwater Provincial Park. Gerry lobbied each member of council separately and got City Council approval to buy the land from Simcoe County… $475,000.

Getting support was one thing. Raising the money to build the facility was next. In his conciliatory fashion, Gerry pulled together all the user groups, Barrie Minor Soccer, Slo-Pitch League, Barrie Football League, and they started fundraising the $3.5 million to build the facility.

Gerry spent hours filling out forms and stating the case for Trillium grant funding. He made corporate pitches (pardon the pun) to companies all over Barrie– Hayes Dana, Wallwin Electric, Barrie Metals. He served Barrie Community Sports Complex President at least three years and was taken on as its contracted General Manager from 1999 to 2004.

His contract was ‘bought out’ by the City in 2004, devastating for Gerry. He began to look for other employment and was seriously sidelined by the accidental death of his daughter, Mandy, a popular teacher at Alcona Glen Public School. When he began working at the Dunlop Arena in maintenance in 2007, it felt like life was taking a positive turn. But, losing a child and the loss of work you love… well, it takes a toll.

Months into his Dunlop Arena job, Gerry was was diagnosed with cancer. By October, 2009 it had metasticized to his brain and Gerry’s life ended in March this year.

While his wife, Dagmar, and their son, Christian, agonized over Gerry’s path, the sports complex continued to thrive. Barrie Baycats regularly fill the Barrie Metals Stadium. Youngsters who have the Blue Jays in their sightlines are able to play in a top-flight facility, and Gerry’s energy is never far from any field.

This August, a tournament involving ball players coached by Gerry for over 20 years returned to play in Gerry’s memory… a breath-taking monument to a man who never lost sight of what mattered.

Sunday afternoon, Dagmar and Christian Ray unveiled a memorial to Gerry that sits just outside the newly completed pavilion. Dave Webster, who now oversees the complex, commented… “Gerry will be laughing about how long it took the city to get this done! He’d have had it finished long ago!” He’s right. And it is right that official recognition sits at the complex for all to see and remember one man’s idea and his unfailing focus that made it happen.

It was Gerry’s field of dreams. And after he dreamed in technicolour, he handed his gift quietly to a community.

“This park will always be here and people will always enjoy it!” Those were Gerry’s words and that is his reward. He and his daughter are buried together at Barrie Union Cemetery. But their souls are flying somewhere over Highway 26, looking down at thousands of people who carry out their dreams on this sports field.

Thanks, Gerry.