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Love for game burns bright at C&H Baseball

It seemed like a perfect day for a game of catch.

Lots of green space under a sunny blue sky with fluffy white clouds and a gentle breeze.

Helping put me in a pitch-and-catch frame of mind was, of all things, a groundbreaking ceremony.

Kyle Poffenbarger, Philip Lieberger and Torrey Spears, C&H Baseball staff members, joined with owners Rob and Danielle Huff on Friday for a ceremony to launch construction of an indoor sports training facility and manufacturing plant at Lakewood Ranch.

The $1.5 million facility is expected to open in September, and everyone from Little Leaguers to pro all-stars will be able to use batting cages, hitting tunnels and more.

Poffenbarger, Lieberger and Spears (try saying that three times real fast) could be the name of a law firm, except these three guys, all towering between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5, love sports too much.

Poffenbarger, a Southeast High School grad, and Lieberger, a Winter Haven product, both played baseball in high school and in college. Spears was a track athlete and football player at Booker High School in Sarasota.

C&H Baseball, which has provided batting cages, netting, wall padding and more to Major League Baseball, has worked for years out of an unmarked industrial building near Flowers Bakery.

On a recent visit there, I spotted a Tampa Bay Rays truck and staff member. Not too surprising because C&H helped outfit the new Yankee Stadium and the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field.

“I always wanted to stay involved in the game,” said Poffenbarger.

The C&H staff never knows who will be on the other end of the line when they answer the telephone. Not only has the company helped finish stadiums, it has also installed gear in the backyards of players like Curt Schilling, Craig Biggio and Chipper Jones.

It’s understandable that baseball players like Poffenbarger and Lieberger might wind up at C&H, but how about a guy like Spears, who was once a high jumper and a long jumper?

Spears explains it this way:

“I was working for a start-up company out of college. My wife and I were looking at buying a house from a friend from our church. The start-up went out of business and I had to tell my friend I wouldn’t be able to buy his house.”

But Spears’ friend knew of a job opening at C&H.

Seven years into the job, Spears is the company’s operations manager. And it’s probably safe to say, he’s been singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” ever since.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 745-7021.

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