Playing where the pros play

Tigers take on American Leadership at Salt River Fields

RODNEY HAAS/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Even though the stands were mostly empty, the atmosphere was big-time for the Kingman Academy Tigers when they took the field Saturday at Salt River Fields, the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

RODNEY HAAS/Miner<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Even though the stands were mostly empty, the atmosphere was big-time for the Kingman Academy Tigers when they took the field Saturday at Salt River Fields, the spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

SCOTTSDALE - There was a moment in the bottom of the second inning during Kingman Academy's exhibition game with American Leadership that Tigers first basemen Cody Quick asked the base umpire for the count.

Unlike the Tigers' home field at Southside Park, all Quick needed to do was look to his right at the giant high-definition video board in left field to answer his question.

"Yeah, I could've," Quick said.

Quick and the rest of the Tigers made their third annual trip to Salt River Fields Saturday for a chance to step on the same field and walk in the same dugout that a month ago saw the likes of Arizona Diamondbacks players Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt and Colorado Rockies first basemen Todd Helton.

"Just being on the field is amazing," said Tigers player Thomas Easter. "I've gone and watched games here and just to be able to play here is just awesome."

KAHS, along with American Leadership, had to sell 250 Diamondback game vouchers in order to play on the field that is the spring training home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies.

Saturday's game was part of the Diamondbacks High School Baseball Series, which offers high schools from across the state an opportunity play either at Salt River Fields or Chase Field. The series also offers teams a fundraising opportunity: Selling ticket vouchers that can be redeemed at the Chase Field ticket office for game tickets located on the lower level of the ballpark.

"Our high school baseball program provides young players across the state with an opportunity to play on a big league field and create lasting memories for not just the teams, but for families and friends," said Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall via a team spokesperson. "The teams use the opportunity to fundraise by selling discounted ticket vouchers to members of the community so they, too, can enjoy the experience and attend a D-backs game together.

"This program is another way for us to continue to grow our fan base and hopefully create lifelong D-backs fans."

The lasting memories spurred KAHS baseball coach Bill McCord to start doing this in 2011.

"I thought it would be an experience for the kids," McCord said. "I remember a lot of trips when I was young and that was some of the funnest times I've ever had. I wanted these kids to get that opportunity. The stands, the dugouts, the bullpen phones - it was better than I anticipated."

This year, 10 high school teams played games at Salt River Fields and eight more played at Chase Field.

In order for teams to play at Chase Field, they must sell 600 vouchers. This year, Chase Field featured high school games on March 30 following the Diamondbacks exhibition game with the Cincinnati Reds, a doubleheader on April 11th during an off day for the Diamondbacks, and Chandler Hamilton met Gilbert Mesquite at 9 a.m. Saturday, eight hours before the Diamondbacks hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It's an opportunity that McCord would like for his players to experience some day.

"I'll get the 700 if we get the opportunity," McCord said. "We will find a way. We are talking to a couple of dealerships where if you come drive a car, you get a voucher."

If playing at Salt River Fields was fun enough for the Tigers, then playing at Chase Field, where there are four times as many seats and the video board is one of the largest in the major leagues, is an opportunity to produce a ton of lifelong memories.

"I don't know what I would do. I think would finally do a back flip," Easter said. "That would be just amazing."

KAHS sold 250 vouchers at $25 each and the softball team sold an additional 50. It's just one of many fundraisers the school's athletic teams do during the course of the year to help pay for transportation, uniforms and other expenses.

"The big one we ask of the teams is transportation," said KAHS Athletic Director Shawn Byrne. "They pay their own way. They take a yellow bus and to go to Phoenix, that's a $1,200 trip including cost of gas and the driver."

McCord said the first year the Tigers began selling the vouchers, they ended up raising around $4,000.

"It helps us out in a lot of ways and we have a blast doing it," McCord said.

In previous years the Tigers ended up playing each other. This year, McCord was able to line up another team for an exhibition game. With KAHS' move to the Arizona Interscholastic Association next year, McCord is looking forward to the opportunity to play an actual league game with a team.

The move also sets up the prospect of having KAHS play Kingman High at either Salt River Field or Chase Field while giving the opportunity to both schools to raise money for its programs.

"That would be awesome," McCord said. "I would talk to (KHS coach) Chad (Baitinger) about that. It's a fundraiser, too, so you are making a little money out of that."

After Saturday's 23-2 win over American Leadership, a number of Tigers baseball supporters - players, coaches, parents and friends - used about 150 vouchers to attend Saturday's Diamondbacks/Dodgers game. They were all seated in section 111 on the first base side of Chase Field and stretched about 10 rows from aisle to aisle.

"The Diamondbacks people really took care of us," McCord said. "We sold the vouchers, made a little money for fundraising and we ended up taking 150 people to the Diamondbacks game.

"Those were $45 seats we sat in, so those vouchers are pretty good deal."