Meet the Vancouver man who now has a field named after him

Richard Saunders, 67, hasn't had a child playing Little League baseball for 20 years and still works full time, but that hasn't stopped him from contributing immeasurable volunteer hours to the Hastings Community Little League.

Richard Saunders has been volunteering for Vancouver Little Leagues for 32 years

Richard Saunders now has a brand new baseball field in East Vancouver named after him. All it took was 32 years of volunteering for the Little League. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Richard Saunders hasn't had a child playing Little League baseball for 20 years and still works full time, but that hasn't stopped him from contributing innumerable volunteer hours to the Hastings Community Little League.

Now, the 67 year old is being honoured for his years of service: the shiny new baseball diamond at Hastings Community Park in East Vancouver is being named Richard Saunders Field.

"I have trouble talking about this because it's very humbling," said Saunders on Tuesday at Richard Saunders Field. "You know, you feel like hiding a little bit. It's nice to get recognition for all the work you do, but none of us — any longtime volunteers — none of us expect it."

"It's not something we do for the recognition. We do it because we love the people that are in baseball and the kids, and just being around a baseball diamond is what we love," he said.

The Vancouver Park Board passed the motion to name the field after Saunders at its meeting on Monday night. The smaller baseball diamond across the field will be named Volunteer Field.

"I'd say he's a mover and a shaker," said Tiina Mack, who worked with Saunders and the Hastings Community Little League on renovating the park over the last three years as the park board's manager of park development.

Tiina Mack, manager of park development at the Vancouver Park Board, says Richard Saunders is "a real champion for the community and the kids." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"I think in my 20 years working with sports groups, it's rare to see someone with such commitment and such passion and positivity," she said. "It was so rewarding to see Richard recognized."

Saunders was HCLL's president from 1998 to 2008 and now serves as its first vice president.

'Built in the 1950s'

The baseball fields, originally built in the 1950s, are home to the Hastings Community Little League and will be the venue for the 2016 Little League National Championships next week. But before Saunders and the other volunteers came along, they were dilapidated and among the most rundown in the city.

"I'll confess the fences were 50 years old and starting to look a little rusty. It was really time," said Mack.

Saunders agreed, recalling the hole-riddled fishnet that hung above home plate.

"It wasn't very safe," he said, gesturing toward home plate. "Here were three different kinds of metal poles that made up the backstop because they kept, you know, putting it back together with Zig-Zag paper and Scotch tape, basically."

"We certainly needed a lot of work done, and the work that has been done is pretty awesome."

Richard Saunders leans on the new fence at the newly named Richard Saunders Field and looks out over the recent improvements. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The upgrades cost more than $600,000, half of which was covered by the park board. The other half were funds raised by the HCLL, with Saunders taking the lead.

Jays Care Foundation came up with $150,000, and the Pacific National Exhibition, which is directly across the street, contributed $100,000, according to Saunders.

Hosting National Championships

Everything at the park now looks brand new, including the red clay infield, home run fence in the outfield, scoreboard, scorekeepers' hut, irrigation, backstop, and dugouts. It looks like a field ready to host the country's top Little League all-star teams — which is exactly what will happen starting Aug. 4.

"We have to put nets up around the outfield fence there, because some of them can sure hit major home runs. We want to make sure we don't damage any of the cars driving by," said Saunders, who's chair of the National Championships. "You're going to get to see a lot of fantastic baseball."

HCLL's current president, Kevin Clegg was one of the people who worked to get the field named after Saunders.

Hastings Community Little League President Kevin Clegg is one of the people who worked to get the field named after former president Richard Saunders. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"It's pretty spectacular; 32 years of service in Little League in Vancouver, years as the president here, developing the program that is probably the best in the city. It couldn't have happened to a better person," said Clegg. "We're very proud to have Richard's name on the field."

"It's really hard to put into words what he's meant to us," he said. "I think you can see that the strength to the league is in the people, and Richard is the leader in that regard. I don't know what else to say."

"I wish everybody could have a Richard Saunders."