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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
Nearly three weeks after the high school baseball season began, Landstown High finally played its home opener Tuesday afternoon.
You can blame it on the weather, though not the rain, snow and cold that have plagued the area this spring.
A tornado ripped through Virginia Beach on March 31 last year and leveled the team's baseball complex. No one was injured, but the storm caused about $300,000 in damage at the school and shut down the baseball complex for the rest of the season.
The Eagles were forced to play their remaining home games on the road and practice elsewhere.
So you can understand why Tuesday's game against Indian River, which Landstown won 9-2, was so special.
Landstown senior pitcher C.J. Morris, who struck out 12 in a two-hitter Tuesday, will never forget what happened last year. He and his teammates were working on the field that afternoon before the tornado hit. They knew a storm was coming. Normally they would head to the building just behind home plate until it passed.
But that day, they went home.
Morris later received a text message from a friend, whose father was a police officer. The father had told his son that the storm that came through had significantly damaged the baseball facility.
Concerned, he and some of his teammates decided to go to the school to see for themselves just what he meant.
"We came to investigate it and when we got here we were like, 'Wow,' " Morris said. "It was crazy."
He said the outfield fence that had stood upright just hours before, now lay stretched across the infield. The backstop behind home plate was completely gone. The three-story building behind home plate that housed a press box, concession stand and storage area had been reduced to 1½ stories. All of the batting cages were gone and their home dugout was lifted from its foundation.
"It was devastating," Morris said. "The actual field itself was fine, but the surrounding infrastructure around it was destroyed."
What hurt Morris and his teammates most is how much work and time they had devoted to getting the complex just right.
"We come out here every day and work our butts off," he said. "And to see it get destroyed, we're like, 'Really?' "
Senior outfielder Rashaad Gregory said the team was in disbelief.
"It was just crazy how everything happened because we were just playing on the field," he said. "Then just to see it go away just like that was heartbreaking."
Landstown coach Dave Hart felt particularly sorry for the seniors. In just a few moments, their chance to play another home game was swept away.
"The kids do a lot of work to the field, and for them to not be able to play again was tough," said Hart, now in his seventh season.
In the days after the storm, Hart said he would walk outside the school and look down at the baseball complex.
"We would look out here and say, 'I can't believe this happened,' " he said. "We had a nice facility and it was taken away like that."
Hart said administrators at the school told him the new facility would be better, "and I think they did ... a great job," he said.
There's a new dugout with railings. New outfield fence and new backstop. And a new building behind home plate.
That's what made Tuesday more than your typical first home game. But it was spring break, so there weren't many students around to welcome the Eagles home and see them improve to 3-2 on the season.
Winning "was big, obviously," Hart said after the game. But more than anything, "It was just nice to be out there and be on our home field."
Having that home field has the players optimistic about the rest of the season and has given them new perspective.
"To have everything back means a lot to us," said senior pitcher/infielder Robert Cook. "We are so much more grateful for the stuff we have now. And it just feels good that we can actually come here and play a game."
Added Morris: "This is kind of a new beginning for us," he said. "It's a new place for us to call home."
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