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Booker senior shortstop Pat McKenzie looks forward to playing on campus for home games.
Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 8 years ago

Home-field advantage

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by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

For the past three years, Booker High shortstop Pat McKenzie has bounced around from field to field looking for a place to call his own.

Without a stadium on campus, the Tornadoes baseball team has always played its games on the road — using Babe Ruth Little League, Twin Lakes Park and Ed Smith Stadium as home bases, of sorts.

But that’s all about to change this season.

This spring, Booker will finally have the home-field advantage it has been seeking with the addition of its new on-campus baseball and softball fields.

“It’s great,” McKenzie says. “I’ve played at a lot of different fields, and this is the best field I’ve played on for a home field.”

For the first time in school history, the Tornadoes will not only be able to practice but also will be able to play their home games at their own school.

“I couldn’t wait, and now the wait is finally over,” McKenzie says. “All of our friends can just walk outside and come see us play instead of having to travel across the county to watch us play.”

Booker broke ground on its new baseball and softball complexes in September. Formerly the site of the Tornadoes’ makeshift football and soccer practice fields and a Sarasota County warehouse building, the new complexes feature new fields, bleachers, scoreboards, batting cages and dugouts, among other amenities.

In addition, the stadiums are equipped with new state-of-the-art lights, which are guaranteed to last 25 years and gradually progress in brightness as it gets darker outside.

“It’s pretty neat,” Booker Athletic Director Rod Dragash says. “You won’t even notice the lights came on until you are sitting out here for a while.”

The new baseball complex has already had an impact on the players. Last season, 12 players came out for the team. This season, 30 players came out for baseball, allowing Booker to field a JV team for the first time in nearly eight years.

“It’s just the opportunity to have their own field on campus and have other students come out and watch them play finally,” baseball coach Jeremy Schmidt says. “We’ll be able to utilize the full practice time at the facility and have the opportunity to work on the little things that we weren’t able to work on before.

“This is probably one of the top fields in the area,” Schmidt says. “They should feel fortunate for what they’ve been given, and now it’s their job to take care of it for the people who come after them and play.”

The Tornadoes will unveil their new stadium during a Preseason Classic tournament Feb. 4 and Feb. 7. The tournament will feature Booker, Cardinal Mooney, Southeast and Bayshore, with games slated for 4 and 7 p.m. both days.

Booker will hold its regular season home-opener Feb. 21 versus St. Stephen’s.

“It’s definitely nice,” Dragash says. “Everything is brand-new. This is going to help us build up our baseball enrollment because kids will want to play here. These kids all definitely appreciate it.”

During the transition, Booker’s football and soccer teams and the marching band all were forced to share practice time on the school’s football field.

In addition to the new baseball and softball complexes, Booker also installed new tennis courts, new shot put and discus areas and a scaling wall.

Booker also repaved its track. The rubberized track meets the new track standards, specifically for hurdles, which will be implemented in 2015. The school also hopes to have a new pole vault in place by the end of February, which will allow it to host district and regional track meets.

“It’s definitely been worth the wait,” Dragash says. “This campus almost looks like a little university now because it’s all open. Not every kid comes here for athletics, but we’re giving them more incentive to come to a beautiful campus. All we can give them is an opportunity and help them make the best choice with their opportunity.”

Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].

 

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