MIAMI — With darkness as the culprit, the Florida SouthWestern State College Buccaneers baseball game against Miami Dade College – whose field doesn’t have lights – was abbreviated to eight innings Feb. 9.
The Buccaneers returned to the diamond this season after a 19-year absence with Brighton Reservation’s Layton Thomas on the roster. The team will not have to worry about illumination issues at home. Their stadium is City of Palms Park in downtown Fort Myers, the former spring training venue for the Boston Red Sox that features plenty of lights and 8,000 seats.
“It’s very awesome to know that the Boston Red Sox used to play there,” Thomas said after he continued his hot start at the plate with a 2-for-2 day in the Buccaneers’ 13-12 loss to Miami Dade.
Thomas plays in the same City of Palms Park outfield previously occupied by Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Manny Ramirez. The former Okeechobee High School standout takes left-handed cuts from the same side of the batter’s box where Wade Boggs, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz cranked out hits in front of thousands of snowbirds.
About 1,500 fans welcomed FSW back Jan. 29 on opening day as the school’s athletics program – which last saw action in 1997 when it was known as Edison Community College – was reborn with a 5-1 win at home against ASA College. The stadium is 7 miles from campus.
“It’s been a really good experience getting to be the first team for FSW in like 19 years,” Thomas said. “It’s been very fun.”
Thomas didn’t play in the opener, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman has since made the most of his playing time with a team-high .500 batting average through the first two weeks of the season. He had seven hits in his first 14 at-bats, including one double, five RBIs and six runs scored.
“Layton has a great approach at the plate and really attacks the ball to all fields,” said FSW coach Jamie Corr. “He provides a good power left-handed bat and plays very solid corner outfield.”
Thomas said his preparation in the offseason “focused more on speed and watching the ball and coordination.”
In his first collegiate at-bat, Thomas notched a clean single up the middle in a 12-7 loss to College of Central Florida Feb. 3 at City of Palms Park. The following day Thomas went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored in a 12-2 win against Weber International’s junior varsity.
Thomas knocked in three runs with two hits from the No. 2 spot Feb. 8 as FSW routed Ave Maria’s junior varsity 21-8.
“I’ve been calm up there and just doing what I can for the team,” said Thomas, whose two singles against Miami Dade were opposite field hits to left and left-center. He started in right field, batted eighth, scored one run and played four innings of a game that FSW led 10-3 through four and a half before Miami Dade rallied for the victory.
Off the field, Layton is eying a potential career in optometry. He said he plans to stay at FSW, which belongs to the National Junior College Athletic Association, for two years and then perhaps transfer to Florida State University.
So far, the transition from high school in Okeechobee to college in Fort Myers has been smooth.
“Layton is doing a great job on the field, in the classroom, in the community,” Corr said. “He is a first-rate young man.”