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Clearwater Little Leaguers open new season at like-new sports complex

CLEARWATER

As hundreds of Little Leaguers gathered in their team uniforms, the smell of grilled hot dogs — the cuisine of choice for baseball fans — floated through the air under a cloudless blue sky.

Politicians, sports stars and team mascots milled about, posing for photos and autographing baseballs.

Two-time Olympic softball gold medalist Michele Smith of St. Petersburg threw the first pitch. Giulia Desiderio, a 10-year-old member of the Lady Bombers softball team, won the honor to catch by playing the hand game rock-paper-scissors.

Following a 12-month, $3.3 million renovation, the Sid Lickton Sports Complex at 714 N Saturn Ave. reopened Saturday with a ceremonial doubleheader: the first day of Little League season and the big reveal of the new facility, which has served the Little League community for more than 50 years.

"It's a fabulous new place," said Ric Ortega, Clearwater Little League's information officer. "The kids are ecstatic."

The 16.4-acre grounds have been reconfigured to feature six 200-foot fields — two of them designed for either baseball or girls' softball — and one 300-foot junior/senior baseball field.

Kevin Dunbar, the city's parks and recreation director, said that prior to the renovation, youngsters 13 and older had to move on to another facility or quit.

"Before, we were age-limited to 12-year-olds because of the size of the fields," he said. "Now with the 300-foot field, boys 13 to 16 can stay here at the complex."

Boys like Jake Monty, 13, of Clearwater.

"This place is fantastic," he said. "It's amazing how they built it all so quickly."

His friend, Austin Potts, 13, of Clearwater remembered what the old dugouts used to be like.

"They were so messy. Sunflower seeds and spit were everywhere," he said. (Learning to crack sunflower seeds in one's mouth and spit out the hulls is, after all, a baseball tradition.)

There were other problems too. The old bathrooms weren't conveniently located or large enough to accommodate the families and visitors of the 400 children who play in Clearwater Little League each year. The press boxes weren't usable. The concession area was small and overcrowded.

Now there's a new, 4,000-square-foot, two-story building which houses the concession, press box and restrooms and serves as a central hub for the facility.

Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue paid for the makeover.

The complex was named after city engineer Sid Lickton, a Little League supporter who designed the original complex with four fields.

Going to practices and games at Sid Lickton became a way of life for Clearwater resident Barbara Heishman and her family.

Her two sons, Chad and Christian Madonia, 39 and 38, respectively, who both still live in Clearwater, played T-ball and baseball at the facility. Her father, Clifford, and brother, Ralph Heishman, were the volunteer general contractors who built the original press box in 1983. A second one was built years later.

Barbara's volunteer efforts began when she worked in the concession area with her mother, Ethel. She continued for years as a member of the Little League board.

Now Chad is a coach and board member. His wife, Michelle, works the concessions and their son Ryan, 9, plays in Little League there.

"For a single mother of two young boys, it was a way to bring male mentorship into the boys' lives," said Barbara, 61. "It was a place for them to play, to become part of a team, to learn sportsmanship and respect for others. It was something we all enjoyed and could do as a family. It was our life.

"I volunteered a lot and my paycheck at the end was having two beautiful, successful sons and now a grandson, too."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

Clearwater Little Leaguers open new season at like-new sports complex 02/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:03pm]
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