That is because LakePoint Sporting Community opened its baseball facility for the 16U, 17U and 18U Perfect Game East Cobb Invitational Tournament in Emerson, drawing top talent from Georgia, college and pro scouts, and dawning a new era in Bartow County baseball.
“It’s very impressive,” University of Georgia head baseball coach Scott Stricklin, who was scouting at LakePoint Thursday, said of the facility. “What they did and the attention to detail is really good. It’s very easy to watch a lot of games at one time for us. It’s certainly going to bring all the talent to one place.
“This is day one and there’s going to be games every day here for the rest of the summer, so you’ll see the University of Georgia at LakePoint very often this summer.”
The Vice President at Perfect Game, Tyson Kimm, threw out the first pitch at 8 a.m. and games continued with the last start time taking place at 9:30 p.m. Overall, 180 teams will compete over the course of the week on the four fields that are currently open.
“There’s always going to be little things to tweak, but overall, it’s a great day. We’re playing baseball; we’re starting right on time. The teams and the fans and the parents and the scouts and college coaches have all had really nice things to say about the facility,” Kimm said. “I think there’s a little bit of shock and awe as you walk in for the first time. I know there was for me and that was when there was just gravel out here and some steel beams here and there. One of the main reasons is just the scale. You don’t realize the scale of the facility on the pictures.”
Eventually, 16 fields will be built on the LakePoint campus, including a 1,500- to 2,000-seat stadium, and all will feature synthetic turf surfaces provided by Shaw Sports. The high-tech playing surface has been designed to accurately mimic the bounce of the ball off real dirt and grass. Each field is equipped with chairback seats, two batting cages and two bullpens. Other features include fully digital scoreboards and LED field lighting. There also is a scouting tower, located at the center of quad. The scouting towers will feature live video feeds from every baseball field at LakePoint.
“We tried to do as much as we could with our budget. We’re really happy with the way it turned out. I think for the amateur baseball player, it’s a pretty good venue,” Kimm said. “We expect to have another four fields come probably around early October. We’ll have eight fields here, and eventually, eight fields on the north campus. We’ll bring in college and high school games starting next spring. With the stadium, we will be able to bring in some of the big time programs that have a large fan following. We have hopes of bringing in the very best college teams throughout the country to play feature games and a lot of Division I games. Georgia Highlands is going to use the complex this upcoming spring as their home field. I’m sure Cartersville will be playing up here. We have a great relationship with coach [Stuart] Chester.”
“Obviously, it’s a world class facility,” Georgia Highlands head coach Mike Marra said. “Aesthetically, it’s awesome. Being the way it is set up, a coach can watch all four games and stand in one spot, so it’s good for players, coaches, pro guys. I think what we can do is we can certainly convince some of the better kids to come to Georgia Highlands because this is our facility.
“Every kid that’s any good is going to play at this facility. When we go recruit them, we can say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is our home field.’ That’s a huge draw for us.”
It’s not just Georgia Highlands that will benefit from the LakePoint baseball facilities. The high school baseball programs in Bartow County also will benefit.
“LakePoint is exciting in the fact that it is going to be a big baseball town. I think baseball is going to become more important. This is a great time to be a baseball coach in Bartow County,” Cass High head coach Adam Williams said. “I think more talent is going to come into the area, just by the jobs that it brings. People are going to bring their kids and it’s going to bring a lot of people to the area. That part is exciting.”
Just this week alone, 29 Bartow high school players are scheduled to play at the Perfect Game East Cobb Invitational Tournament and 16 played in Emerson Thursday.
In addition to the talent LakePoint will bring to local teams and the competition Bartow players will face at the facility, Williams believes it also will help his players get recruited by college coaches.
“I definitely think it’s going to help our players get opportunities to move on and go to college,” Williams said. “I think Perfect Game and the time they [hold the tournaments] is very conducive to college scouting.”
The college and pro scouts came out in full force to watch the 8 a.m. games Thursday. Along with Stricklin, scouts from Georgia Tech, Clemson and Navy were among the viewers present at LakePoint for the first round of games.
“It does make our job easier when most of the players are in one place,” Stricklin said.
Had the fields not been turf, Stricklin and other college coaches may have made the trip to Emerson for naught. Rain began at 6:30 a.m. and the field was hit with sporadic drizzling throughout the morning. However, because of turf fields, the first pitch was thrown on time and games proceeded without a rain delay.
“The biggest issue is when these thunderstorms pop up, we won’t have the delays you’ll have with other fields. It’s just a lot more efficient for all the people who come through and play games at LakePoint,” Stricklin said. “It’s going to make our jobs a lot easier.”
In fact, the rain accentuated the value of the turf field, according to Kimm.
“The rain had no effect on the play this morning and it did prove why we got the Shaw Sports Turf. It completely validates it,” Kimm said. “We didn’t even have to put tarps out on the mound or home plate. We didn’t have to spread any turf or any drying agents at all. We just stood up there and watched it rain.”
“The rain didn’t even faze the fields,” Perfect Game National Tournament Director Taylor McCollough said. “These fields can drain 12 inches of rain every 22 minutes, so we’ll have a lot bigger issues if we get that type of rain in that period of time.”
Not only did the turf allow play to continue through the weather, but players who participated in the games Thursday approved of the way the ball bounced off the turf.
“The turf was actually really nice. I like the hops it took — nice, consistent bounces,” Georgia Highlands Scout Team second baseman Blake Steven Mitchell said after his team’s game. “I got some pretty hot shots. The bouncers, they played normally. Hard hit balls on the ground, stayed down, nice even bounces. I liked it a lot. [Ground balls] were definitely moving pretty fast. The grass will cut it down pretty quick and there’s no grass out here.”
“I actually talked to the first two teams that finished up and they said the fields played perfect,” McCollough said. “I talked to a kid and he said he hit a dribbler down the foul line and it stayed right on the line the entire way.”
The pitcher’s mound is also turf on each of the fields, something Georgia Highlands commit and Scout Team starter Turner Edwards, who threw six scoreless innings in a 2-0 win, said he liked.
“It was different than a regular dirt mound, but I thought it was nice because you didn’t have to worry about holes in the mound or anything. It was solid the whole game,” Edwards said of the mound. “The first couple pitches in the bullpen, it feels nice on your feet.
“I’m looking forward to playing on it. I could definitely get used to it.”
There are some differences in the turf field at LakePoint and tradition playing surfaces that will require adjustment.
The warning track also is turf and may not cause much of a warning to tracking outfielders as to their proximity to the wall.
“We relied on [Vanderbilt head coach] Tim Corbin’s research,” Kimm said of the decision to have the warning track remain a turf surface. “He said that he went to some major league stadiums, specifically talked to Tampa. He had talked to some of the outfielders there. In some ballparks, they have a different surface for the warning track, but the player feedback he got was the players didn’t like diving on that. They didn’t want any part of that. There’s other facilities where maybe they mix some rock into the warning track, but the feedback he got with those players is that they didn’t like diving on that either. What he said was the outfielders peak at the wall. We changed the colors, so at a glance, you’re going to recognize that. They said that the players really like that so we just followed suit.”
“You have the color and the texture underneath is a different texture,” McCollough said of the warning track. “It’s all got a rock base underneath it and the size of the rock is different in the outfield then it is in the infield, and the warning track is as well. The actual blades on the turf is different. If they get used to it, they’ll know the difference.”
Another feature of the turf is that dirt does not kick up in the faces of players when an opponent slides. However, McCollough noted that there were players who overslid the base on occasion Thursday and baserunners will have to begin their slides earlier than on dirt.
“Sliding has been a little interesting for some of these guys,” he said. “There’s some kids who overslid. You have to get down a little earlier than you normally would have to. It’s a little fast. They slid through the bag and got tagged out going too fast. You learn pretty quick you have to get down a little earlier.”
In addition to the adjustment players will have to make while competing at LakePoint, Perfect Game says there is still some work to do to the facility, specifically the fully digital scoreboard, which was difficult to read Thursday due to the small words and numbers.
“We’re tweaking some of that stuff as well. We’ll be adjusting that as we go. It is the basic mode right now. As we get going, we will change some of that stuff,” McCollough said. “You’ll see all the ads on them. We’re going to do some cool stuff with that as we get going, too. The velocity and some of the statistical stuff, player names and all that will be on there. Eventually, we’ll have profile pictures as players come up to bat.”
Overall, McCollough is pleased with the reaction to the facility after day one.
“It’s breathtaking. We post a lot of pictures, but pictures don’t do it justice when you actually get out here on site and see it,” he said. “An assistant from Georgia Tech was on the phone with [Georgia Tech Head Coach Danny Hall] right when he came in and said this place is unreal.”