ORANGE, Calif. For the latter stages of most of the last 50 years, there wasn’t much of a home-field advantage for Orange High School’s baseball team.
There really wasn’t much of an advantage for anyone, not with potholes in the infield, depressions in the outfield, unkempt trees that grew over the outfield fence and an out-of-date irrigation system that didn’t respond well to heavy rainfall.
“Players would get scared of getting bad hops or getting hit in the face or running down the baseline and breaking an ankle because there could be rabbit holes,” senior shortstop Emmanuel Flores said.
That all changed over the span of nine months due to the tremendous care and volunteerism spearheaded by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Head Groundskeeper Barney Lopas. Together with his Angels groundskeeping crew, Lopas helped stretch a 40,000 grant from Major League Baseball’s Baseball Tomorrow Fund into a 150,000 field make-over, giving the facility more of a look you might see at a Cactus League spring training complex rather than a high school field located only a handful of Albert Pujols blasts away from home plate at Anaheim Stadium. On Tuesday, Lopas honored the countless local and regional businesses that helped support his project during the field’s unveiling.
“I’m very, very proud to be an Angel,” Lopas said as he paid tribute to the selflessness of companies and individuals who offered their services to support a project that began last April when he toured Southern California ball fields in need of repair.
According to the OC Register, the amount of support provided both locally and nationally was immense, with landscape maintenance specialists TORO donating a 20,000 seated lawnmower, Scotts providing fertilizers and spreaders, Phoenix, Arizona’s Stabilizer Solutions offering discounted dirt and clay while building the mound and warning track and renovating the infield and on-deck circles, while Boone Action Turf, West Coast Netting, C & L Baseball, Southern Athletic Fields, PVC Pipe and a variety of other companies donating their time and effort to make Orange High School the crowned jewel of Orange County baseball diamonds. The Orange Unified School District also provided a brand new irrigation system.
Administered jointly and funded by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund since 1999 has re-developed high school and youth fields and improved equipment and training facilities “to encourage and maintain youth participation in the game.” Each year, head groundskeepers of the 30 major league baseball franchises meet at the Industry Meetings to decide on a field to overhaul, with previous fields located in Austin, Tex., Phoenix, Ariz., and Clearwater, Fla.
“The term field of dreams, I don’t think it’s ever been more appropriate than now,” Orange baseball coach Alex Vicario said at Tuesday’s unveiling, which was emceed by Angels President Dennis Kuhl and overseen by Angels legend and Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
“They’ve always been community-minded,” Carew said of the Angels organization. “When you take on a project like this to help these kids, it’s a tremendous help because you want to see some of these kids make it to the big leagues and hopefully in some way do something in baseball that’s going to make this school and make the Angels organization proud of them. It’s just a great feeling to be a part of this and to see what has been done here.”
When speaking to those who gathered at Orange High School, Carew offered his own blueprint for success that guided him to 3,053 hits over 19 major league seasons.
“When you do take this field, give it all your best, and do it the right way.” Carew said to the orange-and-black clad team that is a major source of pride for a school founded in 1903 in which 65 of students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. “Do it the hard way, with the God given talent that you have.”
That request won’t be lost on Flores, a soon-to-be four year starter at shortstop and a pitcher known for his nasty curveball.
“I’m pretty sure most people will be encouraged to join baseball, just to play on this field,” Flores said.
The renovated field is a major hallmark in the career of Lopas, who became emotional when he recalled the hundreds of hours of volunteer work administered on nights and weekends by his 10-member Angels grounds crew.
“There were a lot of days that I drove out here, thrashing my head,” Lopas said of the original state of the field.
The ceremony concluded with a friendly chirp towards St. Louis Cardinals Head Groundskeeper Billy Findlay when Lopas presented Angels jerseys to coaches Vicario and Bill French and Principal Ernest Gonzales, who received a number five that is also worn by a certain Halo ready to open a new chapter in Angels baseball when Opening Day rolls around.
“I don’t know who No. 5 is,” Lopas said. “Billy Findlay from the St. Louis Cardinals do you know who No. 5 is?”
Despite Pujols excitement running high at a high school just three miles from the Big A, this afternoon was devoted to the young men proud to wear the colors of Orange Baseball and the youth baseball programs now fortunate to step onto a field featuring a perfectly manicured outfield, a Major League-caliber warning track, a centerfield flag pole, renovated batting practice and bullpen areas and dugouts with two rows of dugout seating.
“I’m pretty sure no one has ever stepped on a field like this. It’s wonderful,” Flores said