Before every Tyler Junior College baseball home game, the announcer welcomes fans and players to “historic Mike Carter Field.” Over the past 71 years, Mike Carter Field has been through a lot of ups and downs while providing a venue for America’s pastime.
One of the first baseball games played in East Texas was at Camp Ford in Tyler during the Civil War. The first minor league team in Tyler, the Tyler Elbertas, played in the South Central League in 1912. Tyler had various teams until 1955.
According to “A Chronological History of Smith County, Texas,” by Donald Whisenhunt, construction on what would become Mike Carter Field began on June 12, 1940, as a Works Progress Administration Project. The WPA was the largest New Deal agency. Construction projects such as the ballpark helped local workers find jobs during the nation’s struggling economy. The ballpark opened in 1941 but didn’t host any games for at least five years due to World War II. The Tyler Trojans played their first season in the new Trojan Park in 1946.
The park was heavily damaged in a devastating fire in 1948. According to a Tyler Courier Times Telegraph article from Aug. 6, 1948, a student at nearby Butler College reported seeing the fire from his dorm room. The fire destroyed the main grandstand, dressing rooms and the concession stand. The Tyler Trojans lost their equipment and uniforms. Local teams offered help as well as the parent club of the Trojans, which was based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Trojan Park was repaired in less than two weeks. All of the hazards from the fire including the damaged roof were demolished. Bleachers were positioned behind home plate. The Trojans played their first home game on Aug. 17, 1948. After the season was over, the complex was repaired.
Minor league baseball continued in Tyler until 1955. According to “A History of Minor League Baseball in Tyler” by Patrick Whitham, in June 1955, J.C. Stroud, club owner of the Tyler Tigers, realized he could no longer finance the team. The Tyler Tigers folded and minor league baseball didn’t return until the Wildcatters in 1993.
Although minor league teams no longer used the field, Trojan Park was still the home of Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high school baseball games and Tyler Junior College baseball games.
One standout player from this time was Mike Carter. The ace pitcher led the way for the John Tyler baseball team in 1968. The team only lost two games. He turned down a contract with the Cincinnati Reds to play for TJC after he graduated. On Dec. 6, 1969, he collapsed and died of a brain aneurysm. Carter’s death prompted TJC’s head coach Frank Martin to form a group to rename Trojan Park in Carter’s honor. In the spring of 1970, the field was renamed Mike Carter Field.
According to a Tyler Courier Times article from June 16, 1991, TJC had not fielded a baseball team since the early 70s. The athletic director, Dr. Billy Doggett, said if a playing site became available, the baseball program would be restored.
Mike Carter Field fell into disrepair and teams no longer used the facility. Several remember the field being used for extra parking during football games.
In 1991, the Tyler Baseball Commission was formed. According to former TJC head coach Jon Groth, the commission was made up of businessman and fathers who had sons who wanted to play baseball. However, there was not a playing facility up to par. According to a Tyler Courier Times article from July 7, 1991, Tyler City Council approved the lease of Mike Carter Field to the Tyler Baseball Commission, which began renovations.
There were many renovations over the next two years. The old turf was excavated, new topsoil was installed, an irrigation process was set up, the backstops were taken down, the dugouts were cleaned out and the seats were replaced.
Many events were held to help raise money to fund renovations.
“They held several fantasy events,” said Groth. “They would bring in major league players and local businessman would pay to play in exhibition games with these players. They also had silent auctions with things like Nolan Ryan paraphernalia.”
Baseball clinics were also held along with a ‘Standing-Room Only’ Night featuring an exhibition game between Robert E. Lee and John Tyler.
The Tyler Wildcatters, a minor league team, played at Mike Carter Field for four seasons. The team fixed the locker rooms, updating the concession stand and added bleachers. The Wildcatters moved from Tyler to Lafayette, La., after the 1997 season.
Four years later, another minor league team called Mike Carter Field home. The Tyler Roughnecks played in Tyler for the 2001 season before they were transferred to another city.
Since then, Mike Carter Field has continued to be the venue of choice for Tyler high schools and TJC.