Updated: Feb 2
The newly-constructed five-field artificially turfed Majestic Park on the site of the old Boys & Girls Club will hold its first tournament, the Dugan Invitational, Feb. 3-6. At 10 a.m. on Feb. 4 in Dugan Plaza, a plaque donated by Hill & Cox Construction will be unveiled and dedicated to the late Mike Dugan. But who is this honoree?
Mike Dugan was a proud Hot Springs native, historian, baseball enthusiast, advocate for bringing back a local youth league that dissolved with the Boys & Girls Club and therefore main driver in the creation of Majestic Park. He was also a husband, father and friend. Prior to the park's completion, Dugan, 66, died Feb. 4, 2021, just 38 days after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
But today his legacy lives on with the park he helped create.
Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said it was Dugan who came to him with the idea to utilize the historic site for this park. This history includes the site hosting spring training games for the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1908-1918, and the Negro League World Series where the Indianapolis Clowns faced the Birmingham Black Barons in 1952.
“We weren't really planning on doing anything with them (the fields) until Mike started pestering me, as only Mike could,” Arrison said, laughing.
“We just had them, we knew the history was so valuable, we didn't want to lose that, but we didn't know what we were going to do with them until Mike stepped up and had all these ideas. My idea was to pay somebody to cut the fields once a month and we'd just wait and see, with no plan.
"... And the more we talked, the more he convinced me it would be a go because we didn't have any youth baseball in Hot Springs whatsoever*.”
Once the decision to pursue this park was made, a citywide election to pass a $7.8 million bond issue to help fund it was held. Arrison said Dugan and Kerry Lockwood Owen "carried the election on their backs." Once it passed in September 2019, Dugan then volunteered to sit on the Majestic Park building committee to ensure the history of the fields were included in the final product.
"He was involved all through the process, unfortunately until the very end, but we owe a great debt of gratitude to him, " Arrison said. "... He named all the fields, he named the park ... his finger prints are everywhere. I really can't think of anything he didn't have a whole lot to do with. He even had input into the playground, which was not his area.
"But he was a Hot Springs guy through and through ... and by God he was going to have the best for his community, and I think when people see the field(s) they'll see that he delivered. We've got the best, we've got the best fields in the state of Arkansas and maybe the region, in my opinion."
Majestic Park Manager Derek Phillips said with Dugan's heavy involvement in the creation of Majestic Park, they wanted to do several things to remember him, including naming the Dugan Invitational and Dugan Plaza after him, as well as placing the donated plaque on the site.
Phillips and Dugan became fast friends when they both worked for the Hot Springs Boys and Girls Club in the early 2000’s. So when there was opportunity to hire someone to run the park, Dugan reached out to Phillips for guidance about tournament and league baseball, and inevitably put his name in to be considered Park Manager, which he was named in February 2020.
"Mike’s just one of the greatest people I’ve ever known," Phillips said. "Super nice, super involved. ... Always wanted to make sure, especially kids, get help, and that was a big part of his involvement with the Boys & Girls Club, which was part of this whole site years ago. So I just can’t say enough about what a wonderful man he was and how great he was in this community and how many people he touched.
"And it’s obvious how many people he touched, with his passing, the response we’ve seen still of doing things to help us with the Dugan Invitational for this college tournament, or the Dugan Plaza sign being donated by Hill & Cox, or people still calling and asking can they donate to the scholarship fund in Mike’s name."
After Dugan's passing, Phillips said multiple people reached out to donate to the Majestic Park Scholarship Fund in Dugan's name. The fund goes to financially assist local children to play league baseball at the park.
"I think a lot of people have taken interest, really, in that scholarship fund because of Mike Dugan’s interest, and helping kids in our community that need help being able to pay for registration and help them buy equipment for baseball," Phillips said.**
Now that the park is complete, Phillips said he can't imagine Dugan would be "anything but beyond ecstatic."
"Mike was such a big fan of that local league for kids," he said. "You know, travel baseball is going to be a big part of what we’re going to do here, but I would say Mike would be most interested in the local league for our community kids."
Dugan's wife, Susan Dugan, reiterated the sentiment of how her late husband would feel about the completed park.
"Oh, he would be tickled pink, and I am sure he is," Dugan said. "I walked that ground the first time and I felt his presence. It is absolutely beautiful."
Dugan said her husband loved the park and didn't want the land to just sit there.
"One, it’s historic, and two, Hot Springs needs baseball," she said. "And it’s a good park, and what better way to bring baseball back to the kids, but on a historic park?
"And he said many times to me, ‘boy, as a young boy to play on the same field that Babe Ruth did ... it would have been exciting.'"
Her husband saw the creation of Majestic Park as a three-way benefactor: It preserved the site's history, it gave baseball back to the local children and it would help the economy with bringing the industry of travel baseball into the community.
But the site also had a personal historical significance to Dugan.
"When the Boys & Girls Club broke down it broke his heart," Dugan said. "He was emotionally connected to those fields because that’s where he went as a young child because his grandmother lived just two blocks away, and he would walk down there and he would play tennis."
And years later that's where Dugan first met her husband teaching tennis. Meeting in 1976 as and marrying in 1978, she knew her husband for 45 years.
"He was just a funny guy," Dugan said. "A great sense of humor, a loving heart; giving heart.
"... We never sat down and did like a manifest of what our relationship, or what we wanted to do in life was, but it ended up very clear: Mike was one of those people that wanted everyone who walked away from him to feel better than when they walked up to him.
"And he of course loved baseball, he loved Hot Springs … He really was Hot Springs. His family came here after the Civil War and his great grandfather worked at what was now Hot Springs National Park, so Mike was really an old soul. He listened to his dad tell stories about Hot Springs; he was so proud of where he grew up.
"And he was a happy guy; he enjoyed life. … He was just a loving person; he really was. He liked people, and he loved connecting with people. He loved sharing what he knew of Hot Springs, of what the baseball history was. … He was just a very giving person, and would do anything to help anybody at anytime."
Dugan said her husband would be "very embarrassed" by of all the attention he has garnered after his death.
"He would basically do the kick the dirt thing and say, ‘Ah, gee, nah,’ and turn the attention to something else," she said. "He was just a nice guy; a great friend."
She said in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic affected their daily lives, they would often drive by the park while it was under construction.
"He would say, 'Now this is here, and this is here, and this is here,'" Dugan said. "I think it looks so much like what they thought it would look like and even better. I think he would just love everything that’s going on, and I told him one day when we were driving around after one of our little drives … I said, 'Well, I know where we’re going to be spending a lot of our summer evenings.' And he just looked at me and smiled. 'Yeah, we (will).'
"... I don’t know how many people can ... at the end of their life ... know that what they’ve done is going to live forever," she said. "And Majestic Park will ... be there forever. I am so, so proud of the work that he did; he knew the job, and he got it done."
*Arrison noted there is a league at Lake Hamilton Optimist Park, but that most local youths were having to travel to Benton in order to play in a youth baseball league.
**For more information on the fund, click here. All gifts are tax deductible and will be acknowledged with a receipt. Gifts may be sent to Majestic Park Scholarship Fund, PO Box 6000, Hot Springs, AR 71902.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, Visit Hot Springs announced the unveiling of Dugan's plaque on Feb. 4 will be postponed to a later date due to inclement weather.