TAMPA — After grinding all season at small Hillsborough County high school parks, it's hard for local prep players to understand the magnitude of doing the same thing in a professional stadium.
Today, a number of those players will get that chance.
Sickles will meet Steinbrenner at 4 p.m. today at George Steinbrenner Field, spring training home of the New York Yankees.
"It's a big deal for both schools," Steinbrenner athletics director Eddie Henderson said. "The kids are very excited to be playing at a venue as big as this."
Veteran Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley said he broached the idea with Yankees executive vice president Felix Lopez after watching Jesuit and Tampa Catholic play at the stadium for the past two years.
"It's a great place to play, and I asked (Lopez) if it was just the private schools that could play there," he said. "He told me that as long as it was after (the Yankees) spring training was done then something could be worked out and to give him a call."
Steinbrenner Field also serves as the home field for the Tampa Yankees, the team's Class A minor league team. The stadium's named was changed from Legends Field in 2008 two years before Steinbrenner, the longtime Yankees owner, died. The stadium holds more than 11,000 fans.
"We're very fortunate to have a stadium like this in the area," Crumbley said.
The coach said that while most of the high school-age players aren't familiar with all of Steinbrenner's accomplishments, standing in the same batter's box as Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will resonate.
"It's hard for these young kids on the team to fully understand who George Steinbrenner was and what he meant to so many people in this community," Crumbley said, "but they are excited to have a chance to play at this great facility."
The Warriors will have the added incentive of facing neighborhood rival Sickles today. Many of the players on both teams grew up in the same youth leagues.
"We have a neat little rivalry going on" with Sickles, Crumbley said. "It should be fun."
Steinbrenner High School opened in 2009, and Crumbley — the Warriors' only coach in school history — knows plenty about Steinbrenner Field. Crumbley led Jesuit to two of his three state titles at the facility (in 1997 and 2000), including a No. 1 national ranking in 1997.
"I've coached there plenty and lost there my fair share," Crumbley said of the park that hosted the FHSAA state Final Four from 1997 to 2004. "But it will be a first for these guys."
Crumbley is hoping it won't be the last time his Warriors play in a stadium of this size. The site of this year's Final Four will be Port St. Lucie's Digital Domain Park, spring training home of the New York Mets.
"We've been practicing and getting ready for (today)," he said. "With any luck, we'll be playing at a stadium like (Steinbrenner Field) a few weeks down the road."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]