The Chattahoochee Valley Community College baseball team recently moved up to No. 1 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
Coach Adam Thomas, whose team hosts Southern Union at 2 p.m. today, would like his home field -- Howard Lake Field -- to be highly ranked as well.
The first stage of renovations was completed in January of this year nearly four years after former Pirates pitcher Tim Hudson, now a member of the San Francisco Giants, donated $200,000 to the cause. Overall, the project cost $700,000, leaving the other $500,000 to the school.
Gone are the leaky-roofed dugouts. In their place, a roomier structure with large storage closets and an office/press box on the home side.
It is the first stage of a project that is meant to make the Pirates' facilities more attractive to recruits, more comfortable for current players and coaches, and more enjoyable for fans.
"Tim donated in April 2010, and our president at the time just kind of sat on it because we weren't exactly sure what we wanted to do," said Thomas, who played catcher for Hudson at CVCC. "We took a year to figure out how we wanted to spend it, and then our president ended up retiring. So, another year passes. We're sitting here and we've got this money and Tim's my friend. I'm saying, 'Man, we either need to spend this money or give it back to him.'"
Along came Glen Cannon as the school's new president. Thomas described him as very pro-athletics and supportive of his job. With Cannon's approval and help, they got the ball rolling.
On a tour of the improvements, Thomas began with the dugouts, which he said was the biggest need of them all.
"If it rained (before), you might as well stand outside because the rain was coming literally right through the roof," he said.
Now, the pristine brick facilities keep players sheltered in all types of weather as well as provide a roomier experience on both the home and away sides. Thomas estimated that both dugouts were about 20 feet longer and 5 feet deeper than the previous incarnation.
The home side has a bathroom attached to the dugout, as well.
A personal favorite for Thomas, who is in charge of keeping the team's pristine field, well, pristine are the two storage closets on either baseline. On the away side is a medium-sized closet, about the size of a small bathroom, where bags of dirt for the field are stored. Previously, there was no closet.
The home side, where a small closet previously stood, is one about twice as big. All the tools Thomas needs to keep the grounds in good condition are now within his grasp, whereas they were kept in his truck away from the field in the past.
"I love it," Thomas said. "Particularly on game day when it's just easy to get everything. Before, we'd have to walk up to the truck to get something we needed."
On top of the home dugout is an office/press area. On one side, facing the adjacent softball field, is a press box for the Lady Pirates. On the other is an area currently being used as a press box for baseball. In the future, Thomas plans to make that his office as another structure behind home plate will be built.
"I have my office at a different building," Thomas said. "It's not overly inconvenient, but it'd be nice to have all my stuff down here."
All these upgrades come just a few years after an anonymous donor's money helped build the outfield wall, replacing the picket fence that had stood in its place. That, Thomas said, was what got the ball rolling in trying to improve the facilities.
On the grand scale, there is still a long way to go.
Thomas wants the aforementioned two-story structure behind home plate, housing press at the top and offices at the bottom. He wants to completely redo the grand stands and build an appealing entrance for fans coming to the park. That entrance would include a gate, paved walkway and landscaped surroundings where a makeshift batting cage currently stands.
To make up for the lost cage, he wants a fully covered facility with multiple hitting lanes.
The rationale is simply that it is a more attractive place for both players and fans.
"That's one of the biggest compliments we get with our recruits is how nice our field is," Thomas said. "You think about it, just locally, Columbus High has a nice facility over there. You don't want to come from a high school that has a nice one to something worse in college. I'm sure there are better places than ours, but that's what our guys say. There's a comfort about this place."