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Jesuit breaks ground on new ballpark

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Tue. June 15, 2010 | Eduardo A. Encina

The renderings by home plate showed the bright future of the Jesuit baseball program -- a $2 million ballpark of brick and metal that would rival some college fields and undoubtedly be the most brilliant of Hillsborough County high school diamonds.

And the school's dream of making those color drawings a reality took its next step Tuesday morning with administrators and members of the Tigers baseball team digging shovels into the current batter's box for the new field's groundbreaking.

Organizers said in about a week, construction will begin on a seven-month project and is slated to be done in time for the beginning of next season.

"To sink $2 million into a single program says a lot about the commitment the alumni and the school has to the program," Jesuit baseball coach Richie Warren said. "From Day 1 we worked closely with the architects and (athletic director Terry Rupp) with the renderings. You just kind of get giddy and now you see it coming to fruition."

The project will be funded entirely by private donations, and Jesuit alumni director Nick Suszynski said that $1.2 million -- 60 percent of the total goal -- has been raised, largely by alumni contributions.

"We're very excited about the project, especially in a down economy, this project hasn't suffered at all," Suszynski said. "I think that's a testament to the program, and the pride the alumni have. They're willing to symbolize that with their financial support."  

The new stadium will include coaches offices, varsity and JV locker rooms with showers, a trophy hall, a training room, team meeting rooms, covered batting cages, larger dugouts and a brick main entry plaza. The new ballpark can seat about 500 fans -- including three rows of indivudual seats -- with room for more to stand and watch games along two separate concourse areas.

The alignment of Jesuit's current field will be moved, placing the home plate plaza where left field now stands, so that the entrance is closer to the school grounds. The left field fence will hug the visiting bleachers of the football stadium, where the right-field fence currently stands.

Everything in the park will be sponsored by donations, from the varsity lockers -- which will go from $10,000 to $24,999 -- up to exclusive naming rights for the entire complex, which is being offered for $1 million. Donors include the families of former Jesuit stars and major leaguers Dave Magadan and Brad Radke.

The ballpark renovation is the last step in a campus-wide sports facility project that included placing a turf field at the football stadium, gym renovation and a new weight room.

Al Lopez Jr., a 1959 Jesuit grad who is the school's foundation director and the son of legendary local baseball figure Al Lopez, said he attended Jesuit when the current field was built back in 1955.

"To see where it was and now see it go to a new dimension is quite a step forward for future generations," Lopez said.

Photo: Jesuit baseball players Daniel Gibson and Lance McCullers, Coach Richie Warren, athletic director Terry Rupp, principal Joseph R. Sabin, board chairman Lee Pallardy III and foundation president Al Lopez, Jr. dig their shovels into the dirt around home plate, breaking ground on Jesuit's $2 million baseball field renovation/Eduardo A. Encina).

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