Memories abound for Shane WernerApril 12, 2021
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
JASPER — Shane Werner has made a lot of memories as Jasper’s groundskeeper since 2004, though not all of them were pleasant. As Friday’s game against Northeast Dubois was his last, he feared a couple weeks prior to that was deja vu all over again.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I leave the sprinklers on again?’” Werner said. “I couldn’t sleep all night – thinking I was going to get up the next morning (of the March 25 scrimmage against the Jeeps) and the field had been flooded again.”
He considered getting out of bed to go to Ruxer Field to see if the sprinklers weren’t on — but he knew he hadn’t made the same mistake he made 17 years prior.
The 1993 Jasper graduate thought he set the timer for the sprinklers to go on at Ruxer for one Sunday in 2004, but it was actually set for a Saturday morning, and he forgot to turn them off.
Gobert initially brushed it off that the sprinklers were left on.
“I said, ‘Whatever,’ I didn’t believe him at all,” Gobert said. “And I pulled up, and sure enough, water running was running all the way down past the field house. So, we had to work for hours to get it ready.”
“We worked our butts off, we got ready that day and it’s been a joke ever since that first year,” Werner said.
Yet, this unfortunate circumstance is just one memory in the nearly two decades of service Werner has given to the program. Werner is legally blind in his right eye — and played baseball as a youth, but his condition prevented him from playing as he got older.
“I had chickenpox when I was little and it got in my eye,” he said. “It’s a disease called Iritis…and I don’t have depth perception and everything, and that eye’s real fuzzy. So, anything you need catching a ball, picking up a spin on a ball to hit it, I don’t have any of that. So, that makes it really hard to play baseball.”
Such a problem may have kept Werner from taking the field, but it did not keep him from being around the game he loves.
It’s a love that originated during his time in Little League, and the lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan remembers seeing the field of the old Busch Memorial Stadium for the first time when he went to his first game in 1983. He’s captivated by the smells and the sounds of the game — and the amount of thought that goes into it.
The City of Jasper used to take care of Ruxer before Werner stepped in, and his wife, Janel, told him about a job opening to take care of the field. Shane received the position, and during all these years, he’s gotten to be around some great teams — like the 2006 Class 3A state champions, or the Class 3A state runner-up teams of 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
He remembers being in the dugout when the Wildcats had their epic comeback in the 2006 state championship to rally for a 13-12 win against Norwell.
“The years that we were runner-up, my son (Brock) was older, and I actually got to take him, and Terry let my son in the dugout, too,” he said.
It should be noted, however, that his visual impairment also led to challenges with the job.
“Coach Gobert puts a tremendous amount of time in that field — more than what most people know,” Shane said. “So, if I couldn’t get something done, or I couldn’t see something or do it the right way, Coach was always there, basically had my back and picked me up.
“I guess it didn’t hold me back a whole lot other than that, and I’ve always had people there that could help me out with that,” he continued.
Gobert appreciates everything Shane did from Day One — that he genuinely loved what he did and that he didn’t fake doing something that he loved.
The longtime coach told of all that goes behind the scenes, or all the times they had to deal with the weather conditions.
“Some of my best memories are just trying to beat Mother Nature by preparation before a storm, and mowing and cutting and moving stuff around,” Gobert said. “Or Shane and I waiting out in the dugout, saying, ‘Hey, let’s try to play.’ We would pride ourselves in playing when nobody else in the area was.”
Through this connection, Gobert and Shane have formed a friendship that has led to them going on trips to see the Redbirds play, or making the trip to see Jasper’s own Scott Rolen get inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2019.
So, stepping down as Jasper's groundskeeper wasn’t easy for him. In fact, Shane called it one of the hardest things he’s ever done. He went to Gobert’s house to tell him he was stepping down, and almost turned back when he was a block away.
However, he has his reasons for doing so.
“Part of it is that I have more responsibilities at school — I take of the care of the baseball field, the football field,” he said. “I was in charge of all the fertilization and the spring of chemicals, and it just got to be too much. And I couldn’t do my job, and make everything look the way I wanted to on a 40-hour week schedule.
“I’d just come to, ‘If I couldn’t perform to the way I thought it should be, then I needed to step away,’” Shane continued. “Seventeen years is a good run, and I just thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s time for a new chapter, try something different.’”
He’ll be starting his new job April 26 at Mehringer’s Plumbing Heating and Air Conditioning — but not before the Wildcats gave him one final batch of memories on Friday.
They honored him before the game and allowed him to throw out the first pitch. He embraced and was presented gifts by Gobert, and his wife, Caroline. Jasper athletic director Brian Lewis and Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Superintedent Tracy Lorey were also on hand.
Shane received a plaque commemorating his years of service to Jasper Athletics, a framed aerial photograph of Ruxer Field with his picture inserted and the caption, “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Ruxer Field.”
They also presented a baseball sign with his name and title on it to him that was autographed by Rolen. "To Shane — Thanks for making us look good!”
“You have to know Coach Gobert for this — I didn’t think he’d let me out of there without embarrassing me in froth of a stadium full of people,” Shane said. “I kind of had an idea, but I didn’t know what he had up his sleeve.
"Coach is really good about making sure that everybody around him is having a good time — whether you’re going on a road trip to St. Louis or what,” he continued. "Coach always makes sure that you are having a good time, and you’re going to remember the times that you had together.
Shane threw his pitch to Wildcats senior catcher Ross Peter, and then he got to see Jasper junior Jack Ahlbrand toss a no-hitter in a 10-0 run-rule in the final game of his tenure.
“Jack owes me for that one,” Shane joked on Saturday. “I kind of helped him out — that being my last night, I took all the pressure off of Jack to let him concentrate on his no-hitter.”
In all seriousness, he lauded Ahlbrand for the game that he pitched, and believes the junior lefty will have a good career as a Wildcat. Ahlbrand is just one of the many players who have come through the program, and Shane keeps in touch with many who have played since 2004.
He hasn’t just felt like somebody who mowed the grass — but as somebody who’s part of the baseball family at Jasper.
Shane knows he’s not moving away, but this is going to be an adjustment for him. He’s gotten to know former Jasper baseball coach Ray Howard in addition to Gobert. Shane will also miss people like longtime assistant coach Jason Ahlbrand and also broadcaster Kurt Gutgsell.
Whomever takes his place, Shane believes that person will have to have a love for baseball, and also take a lot of pride in their work.
“I’m sure the next person will do a great job, too, if not — I’m going to hear about it,” he said with a chuckle.
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