As players walked into the never-been-used state-of-the-art baseball complex, you could just watch every single one of them gaze at the facility, which could be described as a heaven on earth for any serious ballplayer.
The all-turf fields, complete with outdoor LED lighting, scoreboards comparable to those in major league facilities, and an eye-popping scout tower that could be summed up as the Ferrari of scout towers, truly gave the environment a professional feel. One would almost expect to find David Ortiz taking swings in the batting cage, or Clayton Kershaw warming up in the bullpen, or BJ Upton roaming the outfield.
The players must have felt like they were apart of something larger than life as they lined up down the first and third base lines for the national anthem and for Perfect Game Vice President Tyson Kimm’s honorary first pitch. LakePoint is sure to be something special for those fortunate enough to experience it.
“The fields play really well,” said Home Plate coach Esteban Maldonado. “It’s really impressive the way everything is set up. The whole layout is really nice.”
“They were really excited to the point they were a little bit nervous, so it got to them in the first few innings, but they got it out of their systems,” Maldonado said about his team being the first team to take the field at LakePoint. “They were thrilled. Even though we had to wake up early, it didn’t feel like an early game because everybody was so excited.”
“It was a little nerve-wrecking, but it was a great experience,” said Goodman, the first player to test out the turf mounds in a live game. “There were a lot of people out there and it was an honor to get the first start. The mound is very realistic and felt like you were actually pitching on a dirt mound.”
The game was paced by great pitching performances from both Team Elite Black and HP Maldonado to start the slate for the 17u Perfect Game/East Cobb Invitational. Both teams worked a scoreless ballgame into the bottom of the sixth inning when HP Maldonado would score what would be the decisive run in a 1-0 win.
The light-handed pitcher Goodman was able to work four shutout innings for the Chili Dogs, striking out three batters and surrendering just three hits before handing the ball over to fellow southpaw Ethan Gillis, who threw two perfect innings of relief to become the first-ever winning pitcher at LakePoint.
“These are some of the best facilities I’ve ever seen,” said Gillis. “I love the scoreboard; that’s a huge plus. I enjoyed the mound. It’s just a great experience all-around.”
Home Plate got off to a fast start on offense with leadoff hitter Bryant Harris connecting for LakePoint’s first-ever base hit; a ground ball single up the middle in the bottom of the first inning. It was a stalemate after that, though, and base hits were hard to come by.
“It was exciting to start the team off with a hit,” said Harris, the 39th ranked prospect in the country for the 2015 class. “I’m glad I got the first hit.”
Playing on the new turf fields for the first time took some adjusting for both sides. It was evident when Home Plate’s Duke Kinamon was caught stealing only because the turf caused him to slide a few feet past the bag. He made the adjustment later the bottom of the sixth with a successful steal.
It was an adjustment for the fielders, as well. The ball runs off the turf a little quicker than a grass field and snuck under the legs of Team Elite Black’s third baseman before he could get the glove down, scoring Home Plate’s Tyler Burdette on the play.
“It helps you run a bit faster and the ball skips a little more, but that’s good on both sides of the field,” Harris said about the playing surface.
Harris also enjoyed the complex in its entirety, saying, “I like that it’s not in the middle of the city or anything. I like the way things are set up. It’s really nice. It’s a good environment and a lot of people came out here.”
Harris and Gillis must feel like pros. After experience one of, if not, the finest baseball complexes in the world, the two will be traveling to Fort Myers, Fla. next week for the prestigious invite-only Perfect Game National Showcase played at jetBlue Park, Spring Training home to the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m just ready to be down there,” said Harris about the showcase. “I feel like all the work we’ve been doing in the offseason and the spring is really gonna pay off down there with some of the best guys, so I just want to see where I compare.”
“I’m on the same team as Bryant, who is also my summer team,” added Gillis. “It should be fun getting to play in jetBlue Park. It’ll be a really cool experience to be around the best players in the nation.”
Although both players are some of the best amateur ballplayers in the country, neither of them easily standout as stars in the highly reputable Home Plate Baseball program, where they are surrounded by talent and winning traditions.
“We’ve won a lot of ballgames,” said Gillis. “I’ve played with these guys all my life. It’s really cool to start setting up the future playing with guys you’ve been with since you could pick up a baseball.”
Harris, one of Georgia’s best high school baseball players, has not always been a Chili Dog, but has found a home in the Home Plate program.
“Home Plate is the best program I’ve been a part of,” said Harris. “Everybody is really supportive of each other. At Home Plate you’ve gotta really work hard to compete with the best teams to come out on top and that’s what we did.”
Maldonado says the 11-year-old organization pride’s itself in teaching the guys how to play the game the right way, while keeping it loose and building a winning tradition, with the ultimate goal of moving its players to the next level.
They can now also add they are the first team to win at LakePoint’s Perfect Game complex, a pretty awesome feat. So how can other facilities even compare to teams after they’ve experienced the best of the best? Lucky for them, they’ll be back on Saturday, which Gillis mentioned is another game he is very much looking forward to.