Fort Dale to embrace season of change

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It will soon be lights, camera, action for the Fort Dale Academy Eagles, with emphasis on the lights, as the team prepares for its season opener this week.

Though some errant weather derailed the proper start to the season on Monday, Fort Dale head baseball coach Marshalll Watts is excited for what the new year could hold.

Watts enters his first year as head baseball coach at Fort Dale, though by no means is he a stranger to the diamond.

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He spent four years playing at Fort Dale himself before signing with Auburn University, where he played for two years before transferring to Auburn University at Montgomery for three more years.

Despite his familiarity with the sport—and his players, from being involved at virtually every other sport at Fort Dale—the transition to baseball from a busy basketball season wasn’t an easy one.

Luckily, he had some help.

“To me personally, it was a big adjustment coming from basketball season and starting straight into baseball,” Watts said. “I’ve been here for four years, and that’s the first time I’ve had to do that.

“And I’ve had a lot of volunteer help with getting the field ready, and I couldn’t do this without the volunteers around here. They’ve helped out in tremendous ways, and I really don’t know where I’d be without them.”

Watts isn’t the only new addition to the FDA stadium, as new lights and renovated batting cages now flank the baseball and softball facilities.

Though the season has barely begun, Watts and the Eagles have already felt the effects of the new amenities.

“Before time changes, it starts to get dark around 5:15 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., and if we need to work on a few extra things, we can flip them on and stay for a few extra minutes,” Watts said.

“And with regards to games, we’re now able to play the varsity games at 5 or 6 p.m. and the kids don’t have to miss class time for home games, and hopefully we’ll have a bigger crowd there to support these young men that are playing a wonderful game.”

The Eagles lost a several seniors to last year’s crowded graduating class, but Watts is confident in his returning starters.

“Last year, we had several seniors that had been around a while, but this year we’ve got Austin Vickery, who’s been around since he’s been here, and Cody Parker, Caison Elliot… we’ve got a bunch of seniors who will be able to step up and replace those Ryan Burketts and Drake Cabes from the years before.” Watts said.

And as for the style of play, Watts is taking an adaptive strategy as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all solution.

“We’re going to be whatever’s clicking for us,” Watts said. “If we’re hitting the ball well, we’ll hit and run.  If we need to bunt people over, we can play small ball.  I hate to lock us down to one style.

“I think we’ll be OK.  We’re looking forward to the challenge and getting to play under the lights, and we’ll see what 2016 has to hold.”

The Fort Dale lighting ceremony has been rescheduled for a baseball tournament on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.