Practice starts Monday on diamonds
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Baseball teams across the state officially open practice Monday, one week earlier than usual, and with season openers looming less than a month away, the sooner the better.
"When you're in this business, you can't wait to get started," said Pasco coach Ricky Giles, whose team will take the field at 3 p.m. Monday.
"We only lost three or four people from last year, so the kids are eager to get back out there."
The Florida High School Activities Association approved a recommendation from its baseball advisory committee in September to move the date for first practices ahead one week.
Even with the extra week, coaches will have three weeks before playing in preseason classics at Gulf and Wesley Chapel.
"I think we're going to progress a little bit, but it'd be hard to do what our football and basketball teams have done," said Wildcats coach Steve Mumaw, who had 52 players show up for an organizational meeting this week, easily more than in the school's first two seasons.
Mumaw has enough players trying out that Monday's practice will be split into two sessions, and other schools have reported higher expected turnouts as well.
Hudson coach Jack Ledbetter said he has "40-something" players signed up and will keep just 15 on his varsity and junior varsity rosters. Last year, he only needed to cut four players before the season.
Ledbetter said he was unaware of the FHSAA's change in the start of drills, so he plans on opening practice on Jan. 22, with students having the previous day as a school holiday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.
This opening month is key in answering the questions coaches have about addressing the gaps in their lineup.
Zephyrhills coach Bruce Cimorelli knows he has plenty of offense returning from last year's 11-17 team, but three starting pitchers graduated, leaving him with only Mark Dunn returning with starting experience.
"We'll be able to hit the ball, for sure, but we're going to be working hard with the pitchers," he said.
"We've got a lot of holes to fill there."
Ledbetter is in the opposite camp. He has senior Robert Petrucci and junior Bryan Strawser back on the mound, but is looking to the opening weeks of practice to find his starting outfield, which could come from a number of young players.
The first action for county teams will be in preseason classics Feb. 6. The season begins for most teams at Hernando's Tom Varn Invitational on Feb. 12-17.
Two months of regular-season play build up to district tournaments on April 22-26, with regional finals set for May 7 and the Florida Finals closing the season at Tampa's Legends Field on May 13-18.
That path starts Monday, and for teams like Pasco, which went 18-7 but lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, the goal is keeping the season alive as long as possible.
"We're excited about seeing if we can get up the road a little farther this year," Giles said.
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