As I prepared for another radio and live-stream broadcast this past weekend in the wonderful new baseball stadium, I stopped for a moment to enjoy looking over the first-class field that was constructed in 1996 for the reinstatement of the Lee baseball program in the spring of 1997.
The dedication of the beautiful stadium had just taken place.
In my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined a facility being anywhere close to this amazing park. Not only is there 400 chair-back seats, there is space for picnic tables and more bleachers (if needed) off the left-field area. Many professional minor league teams would be more than happy to call this facility home.
But it did not stop with the stadium seating and the well-landscaped area surrounding the field, the press box facilities are off the chart. Honestly, when I took my seat and could see every angle of the playing field, I felt like I had already died and gone to heaven!
You are talking about a guy who has followed the Lee baseball program with coaches David Altopp and Mark Brew since the early days of 1998. I have been to many nice stadiums, including the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, and I’ll take Lee’s new facility over all of those.
Some will recall that this is the same area where Bradley Central High Sc hool played its home games years ago. There was no grass infield, just the old red clay. There was no outfield fence, just a simple place for the teams to practice and play.
Thanks to an agreement between Lee University and the Bradley County Board of Education, Ocoee Middle School now plays its home games on this well-cared for playing field inside this super stadium. What a blessing it is for these youngsters. It will prepare several athletes as they advance forward to high school and maybe even returning to play college ball on Olympic Field.
My mind continued to wander back to the days when I began doing Lee baseball for radio. We set up beside the third base dugout, ran a phone line some 200-feet and found a plug-in for electrical power. It was late February or early March. As the temperature dropped below freezing, I thought I was going to freeze to death before the game ended that evening.
We were in the same location for a NAIA tournament Lee was hosting. A tent was set up for space for the training staff, hospitality and our broadcast. Everything was fine before we had a heavy rain the night before our next broadcast. About halfway through the game, the tent on our side gave way to the heavy pressure of the collected rain on top of the tent and spilled water all over me and the equipment.
Later a temporary press box area was constructed on top of the first base dugout. It housed the PA crew, a stat keeper, visiting radio and our broadcasters. It was an open-air press box, freezing cold during the early spring games and extremely hot when it reached late May.
But all was well. I was pleased just to have a place to work from. However, we were hosting a tournament game with North Georgia and were battling one of those April cold snaps. Unfortunately, the visitors were whipping us by plenty, but there was no run-rule in tournament play. Snow began to fall and the game was delayed by the umpires several times. The final out was finally recorded around 2 a.m. Needless to say I thought I would freeze to death.
Even on the nice sunny days, being in the press box wasn’t a lot of fun, especially between games of doubleheaders when the wind was blowing in the direction of the press box. The ground crew would begin dragging the field and preparing it for the next game. The dust would come flying and we’d rush to cover the computer and radio equipment. I’d leave the park that day feeling like I was covered with dust from the playing field.
In saying all of this, I want to explain I have a special love for baseball. I’ve been blessed to call baseball and basketball for over 35 years. Being allowed to follow these young athletes as they grow into productive citizens and seeing some join the professional ranks is very special. Watching our coaches spend many hours developing the skills of the young men and women is always exciting.
While traveling and enjoying all the adventures with baseball and basketball to many parts of the country, nothing can compare to walking into the press box at the new baseball stadium. The first feeling of being high above Olympic Field is something I will never forget. I could not wait to take a seat and call the first pitch. I invite everyone to come out and enjoy a Lee or Ocoee Middle School baseball contest. It is another addition that makes our university a very special place.