By Jonathan Deal
On a sunny February day in East Limestone, a metal softball fence shimmering in the sun is a welcome site for those who remember what the complex looked like this time last year.
That fence didn’t glisten in the sun last February. It wasn’t there.
The fence is new, like most of the baseball and softball complex behind the high school — new light towers, dugouts, backstops and an enclosed batting cage.
“We’re just excited to be on some fields,” said East Limestone principal Dennis Black. “We’ve got lights now. Just being able to stay at home and play ball is something everybody is looking forward to.”
East Limestone’s baseball and softball teams have not played a home game in nearly two years. Most of the complex was damaged or destroyed when an EF5 tornado struck the East Limestone community sometime after 4 p.m. on April 27, 2011.
The fierce winds from the storms blew away the visitor’s dugout along with the adjacent backstop. The storm was so strong it destroyed a new batting cage facility at the center of the complex. Other parts of the complex such as light poles, chain-link fences and a storage building had to be replaced.
The teams were forced to hit the road for the remainder of the 2011 season and the entire 2012 season. The teams had to battle a wet winter trying to get practice time in the small window of daylight after school each day.
Not only will the team practice and play on fields equipped with new equipment, they will share an enclosed batting cage they can utilize no matter the time of day or conditions.
“Before it got destroyed we wanted to do some of this work anyway,” said East Limestone head softball coach Brett Nave. “We were going to enclose the batting cage, so we’ve finally been able to do that. It’s been great for us with the cold weather to get in there.”
Nave and his team hit the road for 44 consecutive road games last season, managing a 24-20 record during that time and the right to host the area tournament. Only they couldn’t host it. For the second consecutive season the Class 5A Area 15 Tournament was held at area-foe Columbia’s field.
“We’re just glad to have some home games,” Nave said. “I didn’t’ realize until after we got through it how hard it was going to be. There is something to be said about having a home game. It really was a disadvantage come playoff time. We were tired. We had traveled for the entire year. Those (playoff) games are not as close as county games.”
The team also missed hosting the county softball tournament, an event the school depends on for revenue each year. That tournament will return to East Limestone this year where the softball team is eager to show off its new facilities.
The baseball team will be the first to host games on the new fields. In mid-February, the Indians will once again co-host an annual preseason tournament with Athens. The preseason tournament generates $4,000 to $5,000, which pays for equipment, officials and other costs. The team also relies on proceeds from the sale of concessions.
The team will christen its new baseball field at 4:30 p.m. Monday against Decatur. It will be the first of many games East will host, culminating with the tournament championship game, Tuesday, Feb. 26.