Teams to watch
1. McCallie: The Blue Tornado have eight seniors and four juniors who have had significant playing time against Division II East/Middle competition. That experience extends to a deep pitching staff that lost only one player (Conner Mansell).
2. Soddy-Daisy: The Trojans return every starter from 2013, a group that finally began winning close games toward the end of the 2013 season. Returning all of their pitchings will be a plus, even in competitive 5-AAA.
3. Boyd-Buchanan: The Buccaneers also are in good shape with pitchers with the likes of seniors Nathan Murrell and (closer) Jim Cardwell, juniors Skyler Anderson, Josh Antwine and John Sewell and sophomore Brandon Willingham. Three of those posted sub 3.00 earned run averages in 2013.
Players to watch:
1. Brody Binder, Ooltewah: A Troy University signee, the senior catcher will be among the area's top hitters.
2. Taylor Maxey, Baylor: An outfielder headed to Tennessee Tech, Maxey has a good blend of batting and fielding skills with good speed. He may also help with the Red Raiders' pitching.
3. Jake Moon, Meigs County: The outfielder hit .466 and had a .612 on-base percentage aided by 29 walks and hit-by-pitches.
Beginning in late February for the past four seasons, East Hamilton baseball coach Steve Garland has loaded gear in his truck and driven away from school for practice.
His players, some taken by parents, also have left the campus and driven to fields run by the East Brainerd or Ooltewah youth associations or even East Ridge (Camp Jordan).
Now as they head down the school's driveway toward Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, however, the latest group of Hurricanes and their coach finally see reason for optimism even though they have moved up to District 5-AAA from District 6-AA.
A baseball field, a place they can call home, is at last under construction.
They had hoped to be on the field when the season opens Monday, but even season's end is a long shot now.
Garland was out on Feb. 26 scouting possible sites for both practices and games the Hurricanes are to host. He was worried about wearing out the team's welcome at Chattanooga State, where the Hurricanes have played some of their home games since the school opened almost five years ago.
"The reason we don't lock into one place is that other people also use these facilities, but all of these people have been really good to us," Garland said.
While East Hamilton may contend in 5-AAA, the Hurricanes are dead last when it comes to facilities. Each of their district opponents, with the exception of McMinn County, have lighted fields and indoor practice facilities. As a matter of fact, East Hamilton is the only Hamilton County school without a field where its baseball team can at least practice.
Contractors just recently finished irrigation and drainage work. There's a backstop wall and poles for backstop netting, installed by the school system's maintenance department, but not yet any infield dirt, grass, a mound or fencing. Once they do get to use it, though, the Hurricanes will begin with a bare-bones facility. Lighting is out of the question because of finances.
"We have several things that will come before lights," Garland said.
While they have a scoreboard ready to install, there isn't yet a permanent storage facility, and restrooms, a pressbox/scorer's booth and concession stand are on the wish list. Infield and outfield grass likely will be seeded rather than sodded, again because of financial restraints.
"This is not going to be a premier facility [to start]. We didn't have that kind of money," said East Hamilton principal Gail Chuy, who went through similar logistical problems when the softball team lost its facility when she was at Red Bank. "But this gets us started toward the kind of facility we want to have. It behooves us to have a nice facility at the [school] entrance, and we're going to work really hard to make sure that happens."
While Garland was the coach at Soddy-Daisy, the Trojans were able to make a number of improvements to their field including a sprinkler system and chair-back bleachers.
"The field will be a source of pride. It's very visible from the road and we hope to make it a showcase," Garland said. "While we're certain it will become a great addition at East Hamilton, the field also will be a positive from a logistics standpoint. No more loading up and traveling to practice. We'll know where we're going to be every day."
Although the school is now in its fifth year of operation, there are numerous projects, especially on the athletic front, yet to be completed. There are no on-campus tennis courts or track, and none of the fields have permanent restroom facilities. Only the football field has lights.
It is, Chuy reminded, a work in progress in a middle-class neighborhood in a time when both volunteer labor and cash or material donations are hard to come by.
"We've had a lot of help from the school (Cane-raiser) booster and baseball booster clubs to county commissioners (Bill Hullender and Larry Henry)," said Garland, who has been forced each year to curb his impatience. "I know it will happen eventually."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...