The new Andre Rodgers National Baseball Stadium is finally open, and Team Bahamas is ready to play.
A 24-member team is set represent The Bahamas in the new national stadium, which was in excess of six years in the making, and incurred cost overruns of more than $60 million, more than double the original budgeted price of the stadium. Additionally, there is still more work to be done as the structure itself and adjacent booths and offices are incomplete, the parking area appears to be in the initial stages, and the roadway leading to the stadium is unpaved.
Be that as it may, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg expressed delight in having the stadium at a standard capable of hosting the 4th Annual COCABE Caribbean Baseball Cup that gets underway on Sunday. Team Bahamas will play in the featured game Sunday night – 7 p.m. against the US Virgin Islands. The opening ceremony of the week-long tournament will be held at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
“I’m happy that we have reached this point in our journey. There is work still to be done for the completion of the stadium but it has come a long way and we are happy that we are able to host the Caribbean Baseball Cup where our own Bahamian team will be competing against other teams from around the region,” said the minister. “I am happy to see some of our pro players home and I know that Team Bahamas will represent us well. We are inviting all persons to come out to the Andre Rodgers Stadium and enjoy our Bahamian professional players play at their best and represent us well. We know that the top two will move on to the next level and we expect to be in that number. You build it and they will come. Let’s play ball,” he exclaimed.
As the minister mentioned, the the top two finishers will advance, qualifying to compete at next year’s Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in San Salvador, El Salvador. If Cuba is among the top two, the top three will qualify for the CAC Games, as Cuba has previously qualified.
Joining The Bahamas, the US Virgin Islands and Cuba in the tournament are Puerto Rico and defending champions Curacao. It will run until Sunday December 11.
During a soft opening of the stadium yesterday, Team Bahamas was revealed.
Set to represent the host nation are Adari Grant out of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Warren Saunders out of the New York Mets organization, Keithron Moss from the Texas Rangers, Cherif Neymour and Toby Simmons from the Miami Marlins, Dante Stuart who attends Northwestern State University, Jay Knowles who attends Kennesaw State, D’Shawn Knowles and Kristin Munroe out of the Los Angeles Angels organization, Ellison Hanna who plays for the Lake Erie Crushers professional baseball team; Kashon Conliffe and Evan Sweeting out of the San Diego Padres organization, Ural Forbes II who plays for Franklin Pierce University, Yeshua Saint who plays for Emmanuel College, Robin Haven and Brandon Russell who suit up for Brewton-Parker College, Carvin Dames who attends Bryan College, Derrinyj Russell who plays for Byrant & Stratton College, McKell Bethel from Freeport, Grand Bahama, D’Vaughn Knowles out of the New York Yankees organization, Giovante Tomlins who plays for Savannah State University, Kennedy Cooper who plays for East Georgia College, Mateo Ferguson who suits up for Florida Memorial University and Travis Ferguson.
The Head Coach of the team is Geron Sands and he will be assisted by Albert Cartwright, Dominique Collie, Donovan Cox, Theodore “Trae” Sweeting and Avard Hart.
The team is coming off a training camp in Freeport, Grand Bahama.
“We’re real excited to be here and to open this stadium. The team is great, the stadium is great and our practices the last two weeks were extraordinary,” said Sands, co-founder and president of I-Elite Sports Academy. “We are all just excited to go. We bonded very well. Some of these guys haven’t played together since they were 12 years old, but they are all familiar with one another.
“We have a little bit of everything on this team. When you come from The Bahamas, you are known to be fast. We will be able to steal some bases out there, but we also have some guys who could hit the long ball so we have a good mixture. I think we are going to be fine with pitching. We have about 13-14 arms going for us, so we’re excited about it. We have some pro guys and some high level college guys and we feel good about them. I think the country is going to be pleasantly surprised. I like our chances.”
Sands said he knows the other nations are coming strong, but he added that Team Bahamas is ready to play.
Outfielder Ellison Hanna, 24, said he likes the make-up of the team and he is confident they will be able to put on a good show.
“We have a beautiful group of guys,” he said. “It’s about the culture here and how you establish that, and I have to say that Coach Geron and the management team have done an amazing job of establishing a proper culture that will lead to winning. I feel as if we are prepared. There are going to be a lot of beautiful things happening for The Bahamas in baseball. I can’t wait.”
The Bahamian professional player who last played on a national team at 14 years old, taking part in the Pony Caribbean Zone Championships in Fullerton, California, said he believes there is no real pressure on the team to perform.
“Well, we don’t want to let The Bahamas down. Other than that, there is no real pressure. We’re just looking to come out and have some fun. We know that we could only control what we could control so there is no pressure,” said Hanna. “This is a dream come true for me – to be here and see this come to fruition. My parents didn’t have a lot of opportunities to watch me play and my grandmother never watched me play, so to have them in the stands watching will be a wonderful feeling. For me to be a part of this team on this field right now, it means the world to me.”
Warren Saunders, a two-year player with the Mets organization, said he embraces being a part of the team and is ready to go.
“Most of us grew up together playing baseball together – through the different systems in the country whether it is JBLN (Junior Baseball League of Nassau) or Freedom Farm, or wherever, so the chemistry is there,” said 23-year-old outfielder Saunders. “I feel like we could come here and do some good things. Just to be able to put on the country’s colors is a good feeling.”
Collegiate baseball player Ural Forbes II said as long as they stick to the fundamentals of the game, they will be fine.
“This is a very young team with a lot of talent, so I see us going far in this tournament,” said the 24-year-old catcher. “Hopefully our crowd will spur us on. Baseball is a very simple game, and we just have to stick to the fundamentals. We have to be able to stick to the basics and come out here and get the job done. The baseball community is very small and all of us are very close with each other. That could help us in a tournament like this. All of us are like brothers,” he added.
Bahamas Baseball Association (BBA) President Sam Rodgers said he has waited for this day for a long time and is eagerly anticipating the first pitch of the tournament on Sunday afternoon. The first game of the tournament is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday between Curacao and Puerto Rico. The opening ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. and The Bahamas will take on the US Virgin Islands at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
“This will be the first time The Bahamas host a major qualifying tournament and the first time we will see Bahamian professional baseball players play in front of our eyes on the same team in The Bahamas. That in itself shows the magnitude of the moment,” he said.
President of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation (COCABE) George R. de Lira said it’s a joy to be here in The Bahamas and he looks forward to seven days of thrilling competition.
“We are very proud and satisfied with what Minister Mario Bowleg and The Bahamas has done,” he said. “The minister promised me that there would be a facility here to host the Caribbean Cup and The Bahamas has delivered. This proves that the minister is a man of his word. What we see here today, all Bahamians must be very happy with this project. This is history in the making for The Bahamas.”
Senior league baseball comes to The Bahamas in a big way as this will be the first time that a major international senior baseball tournament will be held here and the first time that a collection of collegiate and professional Bahamian baseball players come together on the same team to represent the country.
First pitch is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday and the week-long tournament will run through Sunday December 11 at which time the championship and third-place games will be held. The closing ceremony is set for 8:30 p.m. on Sunday December 11.
Tickets range in price from $15-45 and can be obtained at the stadium.