Million Dollar Smile

Duncan Corbett and WCJC catcher Luke Hass share a laugh on the bench before the ceremonial first pitch.

After two years of planning, the Wharton County Junior College Pioneers opened up their home baseball field, Corbett Park, Sunday afternoon in front of packed stands.

People young and old from across the area made the trek to Corbett Park to catch the Pioneers home opener against Coastal Bend. Along with the baseball and hotdogs, fans were given Wharton County Junior College shirts and caps at the gate, in celebration of the field dedication.

“(The field) looks good. It just looks better (this year),” 12-year-old Wharton resident and Babe Ruth baseball player Landon Barker said while watching the Pioneers take batting and fielding practice before the game.

In the crowd mixed in with baseball lovers, families and the curious came to check out the brand new field. Several former Pioneer players made the trip back to Wharton to check out the new campus addition.

“It’s awesome,” said Frank Lopez, third basemen and outfielder for the 1962-1965 Pioneers. “We wish we would have had something like this way back when.”

“(The current players) have got to love it,” said Henry Ager, an outfielder for the 1963-1965 Pioneers. “I would think kids would want to come here and play (on that field).”

The assembled crowd got to see the Pioneers win a thriller as they beat Coastal Bend 8-7 in the 10th inning. Shortstop Alec Carr drew the bases-loaded walk to send everyone home happy. The field, the scoreboard and the bleachers with backed seating were all made possible thanks to a $1.7 million dollar donation from Houston resident Duncan Corbett.

“I just wanted to leave something behind that will help other people,” Corbett said. “I don’t have huge wealth. I have some money obviously and once we looked into, I said, I can do that. It’s good for the town, the community and the college.”

Corbett a longtime commercial salesman from Houston by way of Corpus Christi isn’t from the area. However, Corbett’s parents are from Egypt and his family farm is in Glen Flora and he spends a lot of time in the area.

A graduate of Southwest Texas, Corbett has been intertwined with the junior college for decades. The Pioneer donor took welding classes in the 1990s and he has a handful of scholarship endowments that has been going on for years.

For the last decade, Corbett had been looking for something big that he could donate to that would leave a lasting impact. After hearing a lot of different ideas, giving the baseball team their own ballpark was something that stood out to him.

“I wanted to do something for the college, that was the main thing,” Corbett said. “They have most everything else. I like baseball and sports (it just worked) and the college needed this badly.”

With the baseball players Sunday afternoon enjoying the fruits of Corbett’s generosity, it’s not the last gift he will be leaving them. Plans for a 2,400 square-foot locker room behind the home dugout are in the works and something that could be started in the near future.

The junior college views the ballpark as not just an upgrade for the baseball team, but something that could have a positive impact campus-wide.

“It’s an investment when you invest and it’s for the students and it’s for the next generation of students,” Wharton County Junior College Athletic Director Keith Case said. “Who knows who’s going to come to watch these guys, (could be) a junior or senior in high school. They (might not) come here to play ball, but they’ll come here just to go to school because coming to watch them got them on campus for the first time and they’re all the sudden open to WCJC.”

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