By RENALDO DORSETT
BASEBALL will once again have a home in the Bahamas as the government officially broke ground on the intended site for the new Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium.
Over eight years after the original stadium was demolished, plans were revealed this weekend for a new state of the art facility on the expanded grounds of the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre redevelopment project.
Located just east of the Government High School, the stadium is planned to seat 8,000 patrons in its final stages.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said the stadium is something the baseball community has warranted due to its self-sufficient success in recent years.
“This a result of the extraordinary progress of baseball in the country, without government support, sponsored by people who had an interest, who stimulated young people through Freedom Farm and places like that to get involved in baseball. We are now talking a benefit to the economy of the Bahamas. One only needs to look at Jamaica to see that they export football players around the world, they export track and field stars, they put money into the preparation of their athletes. They have centres of excellence so they can have access to all that is required for preparation. “That is what this Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre should be all about,” he said.
“I have a commitment to sports because I was there for a short time in my own life representing the Bahamas internationally, and like so many young Bahamians, never had the opportunity to compete in a stadium in the Bahamas. I competed in stadiums elsewhere in the region and the United Kingdom but never in the Bahamas. Our baseball players will now have that opportunity.”
Prime Minister Christie said the stadium also serves the purpose of reintroducing Rodgers to a younger generation of Bahamians in a tangible way.
“This gives us the opportunity to catch up where we started off with Andre and we are so pleased to have this opportunity to show the life work, meaning and purpose of Andre Rodgers,” he said. “We want the final product to make us feel that when we are driving through this complex and we see the track and field stadium and we come to this product, without blinking, it’s the same experience.”
Senator Greg Burrows spoke to the specs of the stadium, which will include locker rooms, vendors, lighting and green space. Additionally, there will be eight smaller diamonds erected for the use of practice fields and the staging of junior league programmes and tournaments.
“This is a great day for baseball in this country. We have seen the success of a lot of young men through the sport of baseball and now it’s our time to act,” he said. “The stadium will take on a similar look to the Thomas A Robinson Stadium. It will have three levels. On the first level you will see locker rooms, umpire rooms, showers, meetings rooms and access to the dugouts which will take you onto the field. On that level you will see 12,000 square feet of multiple use space. On the second level you will see 8,800 square feet of space accessible by stairs and an elevator. On the third level you will see press boxes and executive booths. The playing field area will be artificial turf and you will see the distance down the line, right now of 330 feet, but that distance will be negotiated and we will decide whether we want to have a hitter friendly or a pitcher friendly park. But as it currently stands, down the lines will be 330 feet and 400 feet will be straight away centre with bullpens on either side.
The original Andre Rodgers National Stadium, located in the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre, was constructed in 1966 adjacent to the old Thomas A Robinson track and field stadium. However, when the government decided to build the new TAR National Stadium with the People’s Republic of China, the Andre Rodgers Stadium was destroyed in 2006.
Rodgers, a talented shortstop, was the first Bahamian to play in the Major League. He made his debut with the San Francisco Giants on April 16, 1957, and finished his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 30, 1967.
He died at aged 70 in December, 2004.
Filmmaker and daughter of Andre Rodgers, Gina Rodgers-Sealy, said the honour came at a fitting time to commemorate the memory of her father. Her documentary “Gentle Giant: The Andre Rodgers Story” also premiered this weekend.
“Sixty years ago my father signed his first contract with the Giants organisation, marking his entrance into Major League Baseball and it was the beginning of a 15-year pro baseball career,” she said. “In just over three weeks, daddy would have been celebrating his 80th birthday and next month marks the 10th anniversary of his death. What a fantastic time to celebrate his life and his legacy. On behalf of the Rodgers family I would like to say a special thank you to the Prime Minister Christie and his government for honouring daddy in such a fitting manner and ensuring his legacy is protected for future generations of baseball players in this country.”