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North High baseball coach Kyle Sanders stands on their new baseball field. It's been under construction for there years and should be ready next season.

North High baseball coach Kyle Sanders stands on their new baseball field. It's been under construction for there years and should be ready next season. Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

North baseball, softball can’t wait to get growing

Published May 1 at 1:08 p.m. | Last updated May 1 at 1:09 p.m.

There’s so much North baseball coach Kyle Sanders wants to do in practice. He wants to scrimmage, wants his players to face live pitching, wants to work on defensive situations.

But he can’t.

For the third straight year, North is without baseball and softball practice fields.

North’s fields, which are being built as part of the 2008 bond issue approved by voters, are nearing completion but won’t be finished before the end of the season this month.

Sanders is past the point of find any silver lining.

“I didn’t expect it to be three years, of course not,” Sanders said. “It hasn’t been a priority for anybody, obviously. It’s just the way it’s gone. There’s nothing really we can do.”

One of the improvements as part of the 2008 bond issue was a much-needed new gym. The gym opened in December, but the construction on the north side of the school resulted in delays to the building of the baseball and softball practice fields because of the construction equipment stored there.

Land also needed to be acquired north of the school — between 15th and 16th streets, off Waco — and the new fields sit where houses used to be located.

“We were trying to buy up the property and we had to plat it,” said Susan Arensman, Wichita school district spokesperson. “If houses had to remove asbestos, we had to remove it. We had to remove ultilities or relocate them. It does take a while.”

West baseball also was without a practice field for more than a month as its new field was being built, West athletic director Phil Daignault said. The Pioneers were bused to Linwood Park to practice but are back at West now.

North’s baseball and softball practice facilities have never been ideal because the outfields overlapped on what is an extremely crowded campus.

Both Sanders and softball coach Ann Burgett have sought for varying solutions in the past three seasons.

The softball team practices at Two Rivers Youth Club on Wednesdays and Fridays, while it practices at Westside Athletic Field on Mondays and Tuesdays. But the time it takes to travel cuts into what they can do on the field.

“We have a good set of girls because they’re willing to do what it takes,” said Burgett, whose team is 2-12 in the City League. “We have a great group of girls and parents to take them from school to practice. They’re finding their own rides, so it’s finding ways to get 29 girls back and forth. We haven’t had anyone quit, though. They adapt very well to what’s going on.”

Because the softball team has a place to practice, albeit not that close, it’s better than what they did in 2012. It was the first year without practice fields and Burgett had her team taking grounders on the swatch of grass in front of the school.

“We have a couple girls who remember that well,” Burgett said. “My juniors have been through a lot.”

Burgett is thrilled for the future, though.

“I played on the old fields,” said Burgett, who graduated from North in 1981, “and now I’ll be able to coach on the new fields. I’m excited.”

North’s baseball team spent the first month practicing at Westurban and has practiced at McAdams at times. For long toss or grounders, they’ll use North’s artificial turf field by the track, but that was close quarters, too, because the soccer and track teams were there, too.

Not having practice fields has hindered North’s development, said Sanders, whose team is 7-5 in the City League.

“The guys I have don’t have the background knowledge of baseball, so we need to scrimmage to get better,” he said. “

But Sanders’ uses the lack of a field as motivation.

“We do,” he said. “Nobody cares about North and they don’t care if we have a practice field. If this were some other high school, it probably wouldn’t have gone down like this. But this is North, and we try to make the best of it.

“When we do get to be on a field, the energy level goes up, fun goes up, the we-get-to-play-baseball excitement is up. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get out on the field every day that we can and play baseball.”

The baseball players hit in the batting cage at North and there’s an indoor mound they use in the old gym.

“Baseball needs an outdoor field,” North senior Indiana Elman said. “You need to be able to take outfield, grounders. It’s very difficult in the gym. It’s a small, confined area.… The gym offers a good place for the team to become a team because we talk to each other more. But, I like to be optimistic.

“We do whatever’s possible with a limited amount of space. We’re in here working, like any other team. We don’t have a field, but we’re making the best of it.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.

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