Lone Grove Longhorn spring baseball kicked off on Monday at the newly dedicated Gene Caton Field. The legendary baseball coach was honored during a dedication ceremony immediately before the game with Caton’s brother, Jerry, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the field named for his late brother.
“He dedicated his life to Lone Grove and to the Lone Grove baseball program and our family cannot be prouder,” Jerry Caton said.
James Eugene “Gene” Caton started his Lone Grove coaching career in 1972 and led the team to their first state championship two years later. His tenure as head coach would last 18 years, during which he racked up 16 district titles and 333 wins. Even after he left coaching in 1990, Gene Caton stepped into the classroom to work as a science teacher until his 2008 retirement.
He passed away in March 2019 at the age of 72. Within days, the Lone Grove school board voted to rename the baseball field in his honor.
During the Lone Grove baseball heyday of the 1970s, Caton and his Longhorns were considered a dynasty. The final years of the decade saw Lone Grove appear in state playoffs seven times. Lone Grove appeared in seven consecutive tournaments during that decade, earned three runner-up spots and brought home two championships.
In attendance during the first championship game in 1974 was Gene’s younger brother, Dock, who was actually in the dugout during the game. “We were just coming through town and he said ‘I’m in the state championship’ and I said ‘I’ll be there,’” Dock Caton said.
“I had my camera with me so I took a lot of pictures that day,” Dock Caton said. “The thing that stood out in my mind, of course, was little Jackie Twyford hitting that home run in the last inning. I was as excited as Eugene was, I think,” Dock Caton laughed.
That home run would secure the 3-2 victory over the defending champion Granite for the Class A championship.
On hand during the dedication ceremony were Gene Caton’s son, daugher-in-law, and three grandchildren. Four of his siblings also traveled from out-of-state to attend Monday’s dedication before the Longhorns faced the Ringling Blue Devils in the season opener.
Despite the legendary status in Lone Grove, two of his brothers said Gene Caton was reserved in his personal life. “He was kind of an introvert,” Jerry Caton said. “All he cared about was his family, baseball, and Lone Grove for the last 50 years of his life.”
When asked what Gene Caton would think of having the Lone Grove baseball field named after him, Jerry Caton smiled.
“I told a friend yesterday that he would be grinning from ear to ear and crying at the same time, but that’s just the kind of person he was.”