The varsity baseball program is playing its first games this spring, with a group of athletes who are ready to lay the foundation for a first-class program
OCOEE The coach was so excited he woke up at 4 a.m.
Arriving at Mount Dora Christian Academy Feb. 5 for a preseason doubleheader, the Legacy Eagles baseball team was the first of the four teams to arrive — by an hour.
The Eagles are excited, you see, because those two preseason contests were the first two games for the program. Not the first two games of the season, mind you — but the first two games in its existence.
What that means is, for someone such as senior Daniel Matthews — a student at Hope Charter/Legacy High for eight years — playing real varsity baseball is no longer just a pipe dream.
“It’s been pretty crazy — I was always one of those annoying little kids coming up to Coach (Jarrett) Wiggers, bugging him to start a team,” said Matthews, who plays third base, second base and catcher for the Eagles. “It’s pretty great now that I actually get to be on the team.”
Indeed, the players for Legacy seem to be having plenty of fun with the idea of starting a team from scratch — although perhaps not as much fun as the program’s first coach, Jack Chambless.
“It’s just been so fun to be able to have my fingerprints on every part of the baseball program,” said Chambless, who added he did not nap after that 4 a.m. wakeup before the game.
Chambless has had the task of creating a culture for a program where, obviously, there is not one and for nuts-and-bolts tasks such as finding a place to practice and play — the city of Ocoee has partnered with the program for this first season, so the Eagles will play their home games at Ocoee Little League’s senior field.
Then of course there’s the uniforms Chambless selected — a classic look with home whites accented by an old English “L.” The clean, crisp look has been a hit with the kids.
“I love the uniforms and, speaking for everyone else, we have not heard one complaint about them,” captain Gehrig Chambless said. “They’re awesome.”
The uniforms are, perhaps, the most obvious manifestation of a goal Jack Chambless and Wiggers, the school’s athletic director and football coach, set out to accomplish when they decided to launch the program.
“Jarrett Wiggers and I promised the kids that we were going to start out first-class,” Jack Chambless said. “I think the kids really feel like this isn’t something that has been thrown together. So they really seem to be super excited and very optimistic about what can get done this spring.”
That optimism will come in handy, because the Eagles will have some tall tasks on their radar early. For starters, Jack Chambless estimates that nearly half of his team has not played real games in four or five years. Two players have varsity experience while a few more played upper-level Little League baseball or travel ball.
Legacy will try to offset inexperience with a roster that features some talented, multi-sport athletes. Jack Chambless believes his team will surprise opponents with speed, defense and what he believes is a deeper-than-expected pitching rotation.
All of that will be helpful when the Eagles open the season in the Ocoee Invitational this week.
“We’re starting out against Ocoee High School, then Windermere Prep and then Wekiva — so it’s ‘David and Goliath’ three games in a row,” Jack Chambless said. “The thought process was to have the kids, early on, to find out where they are.”
That tough scheduling will give the team opportunities for wins on which to hang its hat. Because Legacy is a first-year program, it will not compete in a district this spring. When it does get placed in a district for the 2017 season, it is likely it will play in Class 3A, District 3 with teams such as Foundation Academy, Cornerstone Charter and Orangewood Christian.
In the meantime, the 13 young men on the Legacy roster are just excited to lay a foundation for the years to come and have some fun along the way.
“We’ve grown a lot (through the preseason),” Gehrig Chambless said. “All of us had rust we had to shake off, but we’ve come to be able to play as a team. The coaches have all done a great job getting us ready for this season.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].