Leon’s Field of Dreams
Leon Nelson was a well-known man. Not only in Albion, but throughout quite a wide surrounding area.
And, believe me, if you knew Leon, you didn’t soon forget him. A big man, with a booming voice, a booming laugh, a booming personality.
As an accomplished auctioneer for more than 50 years and longtime owner of the Albion Livestock Market, Leon was a familiar face – and voice – all around Northeast and Central Nebraska. Important to his craft and profession, vital to his community as he served on the Albion City Council and American Legion and assisted local 4-H chapters.
Leon left quite a legacy in local athletics, as well. First as an athlete himself. A standout football performer who was among the first selected when the Albion Downtown Athletic Club began its Hall of Fame project, Leon played at Colorado State University before joining the service.
The Nelson name became very familiar to Cardinal fans and foes alike through the years. Leon’s son Chris was one of the finest all-around athletes in Albion history and went on to win a National Championship ring as a member of the Nebraska Cornhusker football team. Grandson Matt, likely the tallest Cardinal ever, was also a multi-sport star for Albion and played four years of Division I basketball at Northern Illlinois.
Leon’s daughter Lisa was an excellent performer in her own right during a time high school girls’ athletics were still developing into what we see today.
However, Leon’s greatest sports legacy may well have been in conjunction with the game long known as ‘America’s Pastime’ – baseball.
There was a time, not really that long ago, when summers in rural communities were much different than today. A time before year-round athletic conditioning programs and summer basketball and football camps. A time prior to summer basketball, volleyball and soccer leagues. Before video games. Before everyone toted around a multimedia device in their pocket.
Summer for Albion youth basically meant swimming, fishing, summer jobs – and baseball.
Baseball was the summer athletic activity for countless Albion area youngsters for many, many years. It’s become so familiar, we simply take it for granted.
But, how did organized youth baseball begin in Albion? From what roots did it grow? In large part, from the efforts of Leon Nelson.
Leon was responsible for founding programs for young boys that grew into the Little League, Pony League and American Legion staples we have today. He also helped establish softball programs for girls and was one of the leaders in the development of the Albion Sports Complex that is used by hundreds of young ballplayers every summer.
Leon devoted countless hours to the Legion baseball program, on the field and off. Leon was a promoter – and when Leon spoke, people listened!
From 1st Street to the bare expanse of the initial sports complex layout to the beautiful facility that now hosts district tournaments, Leon was the guiding light for American Legion baseball in Albion.
Even in later years, when he was not as actively involved, if you saw lights glowing west of Albion, indicating a Legion ballgame in progress, you were likely to find Leon in attendance.
American Legion baseball is fighting for its life in many small Nebraska communities, with, for a variety of reasons, fewer and fewer athletes to fill out teams.
Although Albion has felt those struggles in recent years, our Legion teams are still alive and vibrant, thanks to current program manager Lowell Imus and many other volunteers. Individuals who have taken their cue from Leon and dedicated themselves to baseball and local youth.
While there are countless numbers to thank through all these years, in ways large and small, you could truthfully say our current enjoyment of baseball at a cozy, comfortable ballpark on a gorgeous summer night stemmed from the dreams of a man. That big man with the booming laugh.
It’s become Albion’s Field of Dreams. A field known, as of last Thursday, as Leon Nelson Memorial Field.
Just sounds right, doesn’t it.