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Improvement starts at ground level

Lecanto has a new coach, a new field and newfound confidence.

By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

LECANTO -- When first-year Lecanto coach Brian Donovan looks into the future, he sees many things.

He sees a manicured field and facilities second to none. He sees a support system of parents, alumni and businesses. And he sees a confidence in his players missing during last year's 7-21 season.

But Donovan doesn't need a crystal ball to see the future of the Panthers program. It's shaping up just across his field. "Our complex and our field is as good as any college field in the area," Donovan said. "I want my kids to have the best. And when a team comes in here to play us, I want them to see a top-notch organization."

Since Donovan took the job in the offseason, he and volunteering parents have spent hours getting the field into shape.

They have tilled and leveled the lumps. They have pulled weeds and manicured the grass. They have rebuilt the infield and added lighting.

But that was only the first step of Donovan's plan. The second is to create the kind of support organization that will maintain the improvements and create a pride.

"It's important to get the community involved," Donovan said. "And not just so you can buy uniforms. We want to get the community out to watch our games and we want to put a good brand of baseball out there for them."

Donovan, who played at the University of Massachusetts and spent a year and a half in the Boston Red Sox organization, appears to be a good fit.

Donovan, who said his father was a longtime youth coach, plans to stress fundamentals -- primarily defense and run production -- and take a hands-on approach.

"We want to take pride in defense, pitching and doing the little things correctly," Donovan said. "We're going to have to play smart baseball because we aren't going to be able play for five or six-run innings."

A life change also has been of help to Donovan, who came to Lecanto six years ago as a restless bachelor, but has found a family in fiancee Katrina Ray and her children Ryan (13), Kalyn (10) and Kelsy (8).

He has also found a mission in reviving the Lecanto program.

"I've realized that this is my chance to give back to the game," Donovan said. "Every kid deserves a coach who will do his best and do it right for them.

"I'm not saying we're going to go from 7-21 to 21-7," he said, "but we're going to have a different attitude -- from the players to the fans to the school itself."

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