BRADENTON - If you build it, they will come. Joel Hartman and his crew are doing just that so the Beach Dawgs baseball program in Bradenton has a place to call home.
The Beach Dawgs are an instructional league that began last year, but they always had to play on the road because there were no fields available to them. "We've got girl’s softball, men’s softball, all that stuff. Plus, with all the rain, we've just not had a place to call our home. We have always been looking," says head coach Joel Hartman.
That is not the case anymore. Thanks to the Police Athletic League in Bradenton, the Beach Dawgs have a home field now. "They were overgrown, they weren't doing anything with them. They had no baseball plans in their future. We made a proposal and say hey, we want to use these fields. They said sure, go right at it. You guys take care of the fields, you do the refurbishing," says Hartman.
Take care of the fields was an understatement. They have had to build them from the ground up. "Absolutely…add some enhancement to the experience for these kids besides what they are learning about the game. To be able to exercise those lessons on a decent surface," says parent Sean O’Leary.
Besides the PAL, they also got a big donation from a Bradenton school that was replacing their old field. "We had about 16,000 square feet of Bermuda sod donated by St. Stephen's Episcopal School," says Hartman.
"They allowed us to come in and pick up their sod, but we had to cut it all by hand. Put it on the trucks by hand, pack it, and bring it over here and lay it out," says O’Leary.
So, for now, this team that caters to players from 8 to 18 works on the infield, uses wood stakes for a pitcher's mound, and deals with the problem of constant rain. But it is better than where they started, when it was just an overgrown field.
"We're learning as we go. It’s nothing like we have the experience to do it. We are learning as we go. Google is a good resource."
A little elbow grease still goes a long way, and so too does a new saying: “If you want it bad enough, you will build it yourself," says Hartman.
"We really had nothing. No heavy equipment other than the tractor Joel is using over there. Just a lot of work; muscle work," says O’Leary.