At what’s now known as John Nave Stadium at Legion Field, future Atlanta Braves like Dusty Baker and Dale Murphy once honed their skills for the big time.
Greenwood owned their field of dreams.
After the Braves re-located, Legion Field was still a hub for baseball as home for the Greenwood American Legion Post 20 Braves and Lander University baseball teams.
That was until 2012 when the Bearcats re-located to the Jeff May Complex and began play in the 950-seat baseball paradise known as Dolny Stadium.
Since then, the Bearcats have reached their first NCAA Division II Regional in 2012 and are hosting their first regional, beginning today.
“If you build it, they will come,” said Steve Grogan, assistant athletic director for the May Complex and director of the Lander athletic program’s Bearcat Club.
If you build it, they will come. That applies to players, as well as the fans.
When Kermit Smith was asked – after guiding Belmont Abbey on a miracle run to the 2009 College World Series – to take over at Lander, how could he not accept?
Not only is Dolny Stadium arguably one of NCAA Division II’s premier baseball venues, it’s now home to the country’s second-ranked Bearcats who begin regional play at 7 today against Catawba.
“I think, to a certain degree, this is what we tried to build,” said Smith, whose team is 47-6 and the Peach Belt Conference champion. “And, I think five years ago, when people asked me why I left Belmont Abbey for Lander, this is what I envisioned, that you can do this.
“I mean, look where we play?”
The support was there not only from the administration and growing baseball crowds, but the baseball team also fed off the success of other Lander teams. For instance, the women’s basketball team reached the Elite Eight in 2012. The men’s soccer team went deep into the 2013 playoffs, only losing – via penalty kicks -- in the Round of 16 against eventual national runner-up Carson Newman.
“When you watch those things happen, the culture just kind of happens,” Smith said. “It’s amazing to be on a run like this. But, at the same time, I guess when you’re around these guys and see how hard they work and how hard they play, and the expectations they have for themselves, it’s not surprising, I guess. I’m enjoying the process and the success. I don’t know if I’m shocked, whereas as a young coach I probably would have been.”
Smith has always expected success. And, his program has learned to do the same thing, whether at home or on the road.
By the way, Lander is 23-2 at home.
“It’s hard to beat us here,” said Connor Lewis, the Bearcats’ first baseman and Peach Belt Conference tournament MVP.
Invincibility carries with it the feeling you’re in a dream.
But Dolny Stadium is Lander’s field of dreams after all.
This weekend will tell if yet another dream comes true.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.