Grand opening a homerun

W - Nations Park

Newberry Commissioner Jordan Marlowe throws out a first pitch during opening ceremonies at Nations Park.  Photo by Suzette Cook special to Alachua County Today.

NEWBERRY – The parade in honor of the Nations Park opening invitational tournament may have been fueled by the largest marching assembly in the city’s history.

“It was a fabulous opening ceremony. I think it’s the longest parade we’ve ever had—we almost lapped ourselves,” said Mayor Bill Conrad, who spoke at the park’s opening ceremony Saturday morning.

“I dedicated the fields to our youth and the sport of baseball and the family values that have always been a part of Newberry,” he said.

“The facility is a very unique design so it becomes a different kind of game.

“The fans are all along the sidelines and out toward the outfield.

“There’s no noise at home plate. It’s more a coach and kids’ game.”

Conrad was optimistic about how the parking was synchronized. Even with upwards of 400 cars moving in and out at one time in the complex’s parking lot, there were no lines or congestion.

“We didn’t do a head count, but you could tell there were thousands of people,” said Keith Ashby, Newberry’s city manager. He has been met with a barrage of emails and phones calls with praise for the opening weekend.

“Probably one of the best things was that we were able to validate the technology. We have been reporting nationally that we have state of the art fields with an underground piping system.”

Despite the rainy weather, players were back out on the field within 30 minutes after the rain stopped. Every game was played on schedule.

“The players and the parents seemed to have loved it,” Ashby said.

“It was a great success.”

In addition to Conrad, several other officials delivered speeches as well, including Congressman Ted Yoho and Commissioner Joe Hoffman who talked about a positive vision for economic development. Stephen Davis, who donated the 80-acres that is now Nations, also spoke.

Several commissioners threw the opening pitches on each of the 16 fields and Alachua County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson joined spectators along with City of Archer Mayor Frank Ogborn and City of Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper.

“I think the facility stands out in the number of ball fields and the number of teams that they can attract for a tournament at one time,” Ogborn said.

“I was there for the initial shovel in the dirt,” he said.

“It’s come a long way from there, and I can see where it’s going. The best is yet to come,” he added.

Mayor Gib Coerper of the City of Alachua remarked about the community effort involved.

“All 16 fields were being used and that in itself takes a lot parents, grandparents, friends and family,” he said.

Five organizations from Newberry High School ran the Nations concession stand and were able to keep some of the profits, including the softball and football teams and the cheerleaders.

The brain behinds this operation, Lou Presutti who brought New York its Cooperstown Dreams Park, could not have asked for a better first of many tournaments.

“It was unbelievable,” he said.

“People were raving about it. Everything was over the top.”

Nations’16 fields overflowed with 120 games across two days. The more than 60 teams were broken up into five age categories, designated by age from 9 years to 13. Sunday ended with five Georgia and Florida teams crowned tournament champions.

The Georgia Bateman team took the win in both the 9- and 12-year-old age group. Wesley Chapel Storm team took the win in the 10-year-old age group, Piranhas Baseball team won in the 11-year-old age group, and North Florida Gators were victors in the 13-year-old age group.

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