A former baseball player with a deep desire to pass on his love of the game has turned around a team many had written off, and Thursday they will host their first game at a newly refurbished home field.
The Stratford High School Spartans struggled for years, barely fielding a team on its long-forgotten diamond. Time and a lack of interest took their toll until Jason Barrett signed on as coach.
"We felt like, if we could create the foundation, that this school is a sleeping giant," Barrett said.
"Sometimes, I think to myself, you know, 'I wish I could just push the fast-forward button,' but honestly that would be a mistake, because there's going to be so much to learn and so much to gain."
Barrett rebuilt the Spartans - inside and out - with the help of his friend, Anthony Billups, as assistant coach.
"The first day, we had six kids show up, but now we have about 20 players on the team," Billups said. "They're all getting their grades up, getting their classwork done and hopefully turning into fine young men in the process."
Outsiders responded, too. So far, some $15,000 has been donated to fix the field, build new bleachers and give the team a fighting chance at more than baseball.
"They haven't been put in a position to be able to succeed. They haven't had the foundation, the opportunity, the unity and the courage. And I think what the private community has done - and what the school's allowed us to do - is implement those things into these kids," Barrett said. "So, I've got 19, 21 kids that are forever going to be changed."
To say this sport saved outfielder Carlton Pinchon may not do it justice.
"Wake up in the morning, I look forward to baseball," Pinchon said. "I know I have something to do with my spare time. I have something to think about - not just roam around and look for trouble."
The team right now has a record of 0-5, but they remain optimistic.
As Barrett said, this year is all about the foundation, and in the next few years he thinks his team will be - in his word - "dangerous."
Stratford hosted Cane Ridge for its first home game of the season Thursday.
But it seems the impact may last well beyond nine innings, because a coach and his players dared to believe.
"To be honest, I never thought I'd see the day that all of this would happen," Pinchon said. "Thanks to our coaches, they blessed us with something to be proud of."
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