USF St. Pete Club Baseball Lets Students Play for the Love of the Game
Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg has played host to some of the best teams in Major League Baseball history, featuring players like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Junior.
Now it's one of the home fields for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg club baseball team - a team that gives some students the opportunity to get back on a diamond for the first time since high school.
The smell of baseball is in the air at USF St. Petersburg. Students are getting an opportunity that many did not think was possible. They're playing club baseball, competitive college baseball, but not with a university team.
On March 21st, the USF St. Petersburg Club Baseball team played the club team from the University of Kansas, their second game at Al Lang Field this year.
After playing one year of college baseball in Chicago, coach and player Jeremy Berger didn't want his baseball days to end.
“So I moved here 6 months ago from Chicago, I played college ball last year, I'm currently a sophomore, and I found out that they don't have any athletics on campus at USF St. Pete,” Berger said. “So I'm like, let's make a change, let's change the culture, let's start a movement and let's make the first ever baseball team at USF St. Pete.”
On a cool March night by the bay, just over 100 students and fans came to cheer on the club, many with beer in hand from the concession stands as the two teams went back and forth on the scoreboard.
“I came here with, I want to live a little outside my comfort zone, bring a little change to this community, you know what I'm saying?” Berger said. “Last game I had the Boys and Girls Club out here, we had the mayor out here, the president of USF, Dr. Genshaft, she even reached out to me, so we have a lot of good things going.”
Justin Hand's high school baseball career was derailed due to a shoulder injury, so he turned his focus to football. When the junior from Ormond Beach found out he would have another chance to play baseball, he was thrilled.
Club baseball provides the perfect opportunity for students to play against talent from across North America. In its three months of existence, the USF St. Pete team has played teams from Canada, University of Kansas and Drexel University, among others.
“It's unbelievable, I knew we were going to be good, but I had no idea we were going to be this good. We are competitive in every game we play, we have played some of the top teams in the nation,” Hand said. “We come out and play ball, it's a lot of commitment, Jeremy Berger has done a great job, we are 100 percent behind the team, we are ready to go.”
Some of the players' parents have gotten in on the fun too. Debra Hand, Justin's mother, didn't think she would ever see her son play again.
“It's pretty awesome, I thought that these days were over, and he's so happy, he's overjoyed, and it's a great thing to see him back on the field. It gives him a second chance doing something that he loves,” she said. “It’s pretty cool that the school has developed, or has allowed these kids to have a club baseball team and so we drove our 3 hours to come support him, and to show up whenever we can."
This team gives 24 students like her son the opportunity to play baseball again - even if it is just for the love of the game.