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Bull Dogs have ballpark of their own

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It had been the same drill for the past four seasons, Columbus North’s baseball players would make their way to their “home” field at Clifty Park, a spot across the street from Columbus East High School.

Besides being so near their rivals, the Bull Dogs thought of their temporary facility as the minor leagues as compared to East’s home field.

“We would drive by East’s field and just look at it,” said North junior Cody Burton. “And then, ‘There’s our field.’ We didn’t feel like we had a home.

“It is so much different now.”

On Thursday, if the weather cooperates, Columbus North will play its opening game at the new $1.6 million baseball complex on the grounds at Southside Elementary. That game, which begins at 6 p.m., against visiting Fishers marks the end of a journey that began in 2008 when the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. released plans to plow under the baseball field on the grounds at Columbus North to build a much-needed parking lot.

Excitement built in June 2009 when the BCSC announced it would work with the city to make the proposed downtown sports complex the Bull Dogs’ baseball home.

That project went awry in December 2011 when a study brought up flood concerns that would increase the cost of the $8.56 million project.

The school corporation in January 2012 decided to focus on building a sports complex on property it already owned at Southside Elementary. Construction began in 2012, but it wasn’t quite completed in time for the complex, which includes two baseball fields, to host games last season.

Now, with the exception of some minor finishing touches, it’s ready. It ends four seasons for North at Clifty Park.

The new, main baseball field has no name, but North sophomore pitcher Collin Lollar knows what to call it.

“It feels like we have a place to call home,” he said.

Like Burton, Lollar was glad to get away from Clifty Park.

“We felt like we were right on top of East,” Lollar said.

Although Columbus North is grateful it was allowed to use Clifty Park the past four seasons, the new complex has much-needed amenities.

“I love this place,” said North pitching coach Trevor Baty. “No disrespect to Clifty, but we have locker rooms here and a nice press box. It is more convenient for us.”

Ben McDaniel loves that he begins his first season as North’s head baseball coach in a beautiful facility.

“It has brought a lot of excitement around the program,” McDaniel said. “The kids are excited, and they have been taking care of (the park). They’ve got a locker room, so the guys aren’t changing in the parking lot anymore. We want to make this a place where our kids want to be.”

The coaches and players hope the new complex attracts fans.

“The seating here is phenomenal,” McDaniel said. “There are some blind spots because the dugouts might be too high, but it is a really fan-friendly place.”

North athletics director Jeff Hester isn’t surprised his coaches and players are so pleased.

“It definitely was a process, and it meant being patient,” Hester said. “It’s never really convenient playing home events at a facility that is not really yours.

“And it was more disappointing than frustrating because of the unknown. We’re grateful to have a home now. This gives our baseball team a better identity, a feeling about who they are as a program.”

BCSC Superintendent John Quick agreed that the process took a lot of patience.

“Mayor (Fred) Armstrong approached us about (the downtown sports complex),” Quick said. “We were ready to go in 2009 or 2010 and we kind of held in there. Then there was another major election in 2011 (Kristen Brown won the election as mayor). In 2012, it was decided we couldn’t pull it off. But we had 33 acres we already owned (on the Southside campus).”

Although the site is just under five miles from Columbus North High School, Quick said it shouldn’t be a problem for athletes to attend practices or games.

“We have an open campus,” Quick said. “Our students take a class at New Tech, or at IUPUC, or a half-day at McDowell. It is an open community concept and we think it is the best plan to do this. We put a lot of responsibility on our students early, but we feel it pays dividends. Our students do very well in college. Of course, if we would had thought about it 60 years ago, we would not have built Schmitt and Northside on that site.”

Work is scheduled to begin this year on a $1.2 million project to add two softball fields adjacent to the baseball fields at the Southside Elementary campus. Hester said the hope is that North can begin playing games there in the 2015 season.

With the baseball facility finished, now the focus becomes simply baseball.

“This fence is (farther out than Clifty),” noted Burton. “There’s going to be less home runs.”

Lollar wasn’t in complete agreement.

“The wind is going to be blowing out,” he said.

Those theories will be tested beginning Thursday.

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