High School Sports

Pride of the Red Jackets: Baseball field facelift renews Jordan team, community

A group of Jordan High baseball players stood in the grass of shallow right-center field, shagging fly balls and fielding grounders as they came off the bat of a teammate at home plate.

One after another, the balls made their way out to the green landscape, preceded by the familiar ping that signaled bat hitting ball.

It's a familiar sight around the beginning of spring as high school teams around the country trade hardcourt for hardball. For Jordan, though, the scene looks a little different in 2013.

The Red Jackets' field, which remained essentially unchanged for more than 40 years, underwent a facelift during the offseason. Some changes, like the paint on the dugouts, were cosmetic, while others served to make the field more playable.

All changes have achieved one underlying goal for the team.

"The kids enjoy it," said Red Jackets coach Tony Dimitri, son of former coach Anthony Dimitri. "It's something they can be proud of. They can take pride in their team and their school. They see we're just like everyone else."

The changes were many, addressing a handful of needs.

There is the brick backstop, replacing the old chain link fence. There are fences in front of the dugout and sprinklers on the infield to water the dirt and grass. The entire field has been replaced with rye grass, and two truckloads of dirt revitalized an infield that had previously resembled pavement.

Off the first-base dugout, there is a new locker room measuring 30 feet by 20 feet. All the changes were made over the winter.

The move for change began when former player Scott Taylor (1979-81) approached the elder Dimitri about 10 years ago, suggesting they begin to improve the conditions.

Stepping up to the plate

Taylor was sitting at B.Merrell's restaurant nearly a decade ago when he read a newspaper article about the Columbus High baseball program.

It wasn't about just the immense talent it put out on the field, but the facilities and landscaping that helped define an elite program.

"I contacted Anthony (Dimitri) and said that I was willing to step out there and spearhead this thing," said Taylor, a former Aflac employee and current owner of an Allstate agency in Newnan. "I knew some people that could help and knew we could do this."

When the elder Dimitri died, the planning process came to a halt. Over the last year, however, Taylor and fellow alumnus Bubba Boone got aggressive about getting together with Tony.

The two helped spearhead the movement, putting in their own money and reaching out to others throughout the community to help as well. Taylor couldn't specify the amount of money that had been spent through the Jordan Diamond Club, but estimated that he alone had contributed in the neighborhood of $10,000.

"I've been somewhat successful, and I felt like it was important to do," Taylor said. "I don't care about the money I've put in. I'm going to continue to spend money on it, because most of the lessons I learned in my life came on that baseball field."

Taylor stressed his pride in the history and tradition of the program as a reason he is so passionate about it and why he called for more Jordan High and baseball alumni to contribute as well.

"It's a long tradition there at Jordan," Taylor said. "Jordan and Columbus are two of the oldest schools in the area. The difference was that someone got aggressive at Columbus High and put their money where their mouth is, so that's what we've tried to do."

Tony Dimitri praised the help provided from Boone, who helped market the project and get more people in the area involved. Allen Gray, who attended Jordan in the 80s and runs Muscogee Paint and Sandblasting, provided supplies and painted the dugouts for no charge.

"I asked for his help. He's got a successful painting business and was ready to do his part," Taylor said. "You know, people give back."

Taylor also said Tony Dimitri's work in carrying on the task and managing money that had been donated was a difference-maker.

"He's done a great job on the field and off," Taylor said. "Every dollar we've spent is being taken care of. He's taken what Bubba and I had as a dream and continued to carry it on."

An on-field improvement

Players on the team are thrilled with the improvements, too.

In fact, Tony Dimitri said he thinks they have helped carry over to the play. The team is 8-2 so far this season, starting the season 6-0 for the first time in 10 years.

"It's carried over to our game, truthfully," he said. "It's something they can be proud of. They take pride in it."

The players echoed those sentiments, noting the tradition they were trying to uphold.

"It's decades and decades of tradition," first baseman Josh Woodard said. "We're building on what was already here. They say the better environment you play in, the better you play. So we're just trying to build on what was already here."

"I didn't play here last year, but before I got here, the infield was hard as a rock," catcher Taylor Baker said. "Obviously, with better conditions you can play the ball a lot better."

Scott Taylor said that he had the opportunity to see one game earlier this year, and the difference in conditions were clear.

"There were still some bad hops," he said. "There is still work to do, but it's so much better than it was. There are a lot of Jordan people committed to giving back to the school, but we need others to see they can help, too."

Next on deck

As much as they've been able to accomplish, Taylor said that there's plenty more left to do, starting with building an outfield fence, a luxury the team hasn't enjoyed in all of its years.

"And we'd like to add a scoreboard, which will cost a lot of money," Taylor said.

Taylor estimated that they would need $50,000 or more to finish the projects they have left, but he thinks that can be accomplished this year.

"People don't usually give money until they see the improvement," he said. "Now that we've got some improvement and the team is starting to play well, I think people will join in."

Anyone can buy a plaque that will be included on the brick at the field to help contribute.

"It could be beautiful. We have a lot of work to do, but it could be great," Taylor said. "I want people to want to say that they played ball there."