The first time the Yellow Jackets stepped foot on their new field of dreams, their hopes were to make the season as memorable as the many played at the former home of Cleburne baseball.
Those hopes have become a reality as the 2018 District Champion team achieved their first Bi-District title on new turf with the May 4 nail-biting win over Mansfield-Lake Ridge.
“We were excited to play on a new field, with a fresh atmosphere,” senior pitcher Landon Cody said. “We were also sad about leaving the old field, due to the winning tradition established there by lots of great teams.”
“But we also felt we had a good chance to start on a good note on the new field,” he said.
The first chapter in the history of the new home of Jackets baseball is still being written, but the story began with an exciting start with Cleburne ranked first in the state, followed by an undefeated record in District play. Soggy field conditions at Lake Ridge moved the Bi-District game to Cleburne, where the record of wins at home was expanded.
Senior second baseman Javier Torres said the environment at the new facility was a good one from that first step.
“It felt meant to be,” Torres said. “It was an honor to play on the former field, with all the Jackets through the years achieved there. I feel everybody has been very motivated in getting to play on this new field. It’s our new home.”
Head Coach Ross Taylor speaks with pride when discussing the new facility, from its clean look to what it can mean to CHS.
“There are no irregularities in a turf field, no holes, no bumps, no sprinkler heads,” he said. “While this new facility impacts our program, it also impacts people looking at Cleburne and thinking this might be a place where they want to raise their kids.”
Having led 20 seasons of Jackets baseball on the former field, including four years coaching his son, Taylor admits the move has been bittersweet.
“A lot of good teams have gone through here,” he said. “I came in ’97 and we totally changed that field. That was a source of pride for us. There were some hard moments when I saw that field come down. That was the field where my son played. But as the new field began to take shape, I was very excited about the new change.”
“I think Ty is looking down and saying, ‘good for you, Pops.’” Taylor said. “I think this is the house where a lot of good baseball teams will be built.”
Assistant Coach Ryan Stepp also has lots of memories associated with the former field. Stepp played for Taylor as a member of the 2004 team that advanced to the baseball state finals, 25 years after the same achievement by the 1979 Jackets. Players from both those teams, Spike Owen (CHS ‘79) and Dylan Gee (CHS ’04) played at the college level before moving on to the pros.
Stepp, who was a center fielder for the Cowboys at Hardin-Simmons University, came back to Cleburne following graduation to join the CHS faculty. His coaching memories include the Jackets’ 2012 state-finalist team.
“There were a lot of wonderful memories, traditions and lots of blood, sweat and tears that came to mind as that old field came down,” Stepp said. “But it is so great to have this new field. It’s a first-class facility for our kids, where new memories are being made, with many to come.”
This weekend’s Area games with Dallas-Woodrow Wilson will be played at Johnny Oates Field, starting Friday at 7:30 p.m. with Game Two set for Saturday at 11 a.m. A third game, if needed, will be played at 1.
The theme for the Jackets’ 2018 season is “one team, one dream, one heartbeat.” On the first day his players stepped on their new field, Taylor described them as a team that would set the standard for what was to come.
“Someday,” Cody said, “There will be players standing here who will say ‘we get to play on the same field where all those wins were made.’ We’re very proud to be the first team to make some of those wins.”
The first time the Yellow Jackets stepped foot on their new field of dreams, their hopes were to make the season as memorable as the many played at the former home of Cleburne baseball. Now headed for the Area round of the playoffs, their hopes have become reality.