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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Return to Great American Ballpark for Bluebirds

Highlands to Face Covington Catholic in Reds Futures Contest

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Drew Rom throws the ball in practice before the game at Great American Ballpark last year.
The Highlands Bluebirds baseball team received a taste of life in the big leagues last year and will do it again this year.

The Bluebirds will face 9th Region arch-rival Covington Catholic in one of the two games that Friday evening at Great American Ballpark in the Cincinnati Reds Futures Games. Highlands Head Coach Jeremy Baioni said the times have not been finalized. But start times of 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. are two potential times.

"It's obviously a lot different feel playing in a facility like that when you're normally in the stands watching," Baioni said. "We want to make sure we go out and compete. It's still a moment these kids are going to remember the rest of their lives so we want to make sure we do our best to get kids in and out and let kids touch the field even if it's in a limited role really take the whole experience in and be a part of it. Let's face it. Very few of us are going to get an opportunity to do that again in the future."

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Highlands lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier, 8-2 on April 8 on a sunny day at Great American. The Bluebirds later won their third straight 9th Region crown finishing 26-13 on the season before losing to eventual state champion Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park in the state quarterfinals.

"I think last year, we were overwhelmed playing in that big of a ballpark just the atmosphere surrounding it," said Drew Rom, Highlands senior pitcher and University of Michigan signee. "But this year, I think we're going to take it just as another game with the mindset of just going out and doing our own thing not worrying about what field we're playing on."

Highlands faced the Colonels three times last year and lost all three meetings. But the Colonels lost 7-4 to Conner in the first round of the 9th Region Tournament.

The Bluebirds benefited from playing on a field this size for the postseason last year. The region tournament is played at University of Cincinnati Health Stadium in Florence and the state tournament takes place at Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington. UC Health Stadium is the home of the Minor League Independent Florence Freedom and the Lexington Legends, a Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, play at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. There's a lot more foul territory and the fans are not as close to the field at those places.

"It definitely helps in that regard. Different things that they see enable them to read the ball off the bat in an area is such a high ceiling," Baioni said. "We're used to playing at a field with a backstop that's maybe 25, 30 feet behind home plate and once you get above eight or so feet, you just have the sky or maybe some trees. We're not going to play on a field that large until you get to the state tournament if you're lucky enough to get there."

Baioni said Highlands led every team that played at GABP in attendance last year and hope to attract more this year. The Bluebirds played their game there on the last weekend of spring break last year. But that won't be the case this season.

"The Reds do a great job of really giving you a lot for $10," Baioni said. "You get to watch our kids at Great American Ballpark, but then you also get a ticket to a Reds game later in the year. It's centered around Highlands students and Highlands baseball. It was a really cool experience last year. We had so many people from Fort Thomas sitting together watching the Reds together. It was a really neat experience."

Baioni said the goal is to spread the ticket information around as quick and often as possible once ticket information becomes available. He said it was tough to do last year because it was a last-minute thing.

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