Before he spoke to county commissioners about his dream for a sports complex unrivaled by any around here, Mike Hampton reflected on his past growing up in Homosassa.
Before he became the Crystal River High School graduate-turned-major-eague hurler, he played in the T-ball leagues of his youth, climbed to Little League and then to the Dixie League as a teen on the fields of the North Suncoast.
Good enough to join youth traveling teams, Hampton got to play on lusher and grander fields, such as Boardwalk and Baseball, near Orlando, where the Kansas City Royals used to spend spring training surrounded by an amusement park, a large stadium, practice fields and other amenities that awed him.
It left an imprint on him, though he said he was never the type who needed more than just a clump of grass, a bat, a glove and a baseball.
"Shoot, I was a kid that you just put me on dirt, and I'd be alright," Hampton said.
As he rose to the major leagues, he visited youth baseball fields around the United States that seemed more like miniature ballparks. He was impressed by a Denver field built by his former catcher, Scott Service, and then he saw "the Yard," in Houston, with seven baseball and four softball fields, 16 batting cages and a 40,000-square-foot indoor complex owned by the nonprofit Baseball U.S.A., a youth softball and baseball organization.
He was amazed, he said, "just seeing those facilities and the impact they have on those kids."
As his own 6-year-old son, Michael, began playing flag football on "sand spurs and a fire-ant mound," on a corner of Bicentennial Park in Crystal River that became a field only after a paint crew hastily painted sidelines and hash marks, Hampton began batting around the idea of building a complex for all Citrus County kids, he said.
Tuesday, the Atlanta Braves player pitched the idea to county commissioners, asking them for their partnership to build this complex, which could include several practice and game football fields, a gymnasium, softball and baseball fields, batting cages and a cheerleading pavilion.
In gray slacks, a black collared T-shirt and a tightly groomed goatee, Hampton proposed working with county staff on the project, which he would build, if the county gives him more than 50 acres on which to build it.
"One thing I know is sports," Hampton said in opening, "and I know the influence it's had in my life."
Brent Hall, the Citrus County director of Hampton's Pitching-In Foundation, who accompanied the pitcher, told commissioners that the sports complex would have room to someday accommodate all of the county's sporting needs, including a swimming pool and a track, should they want them.
Commissioners were blown away.
"This could just be something remarkable in the state if we put all this together," crowed Commissioner Jim Fowler, who, like his colleagues, supported county employees talking with Hampton.
The Citrus County School District is interested in building the parking lot for the proposed complex, an official sent to the meeting by the superintendent added. Hampton requested that help from the district.
"This is not just my name being part of this," Hampton said. "I want everyone being part of it."
Following his presentation, everyone in attendance applauded, sending Hampton from the podium like a pitcher called from a game-winning mound
"At a time when great sports players leave a bad taste in our mouth," local softball coach Marco Wilson said, "it's refreshing to see a hometown boy give all that he can."
_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.