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Veterans eager to get going

Gators second baseman Erica Skillman brings plenty of enthusiasm to the field.

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002


LAND O'LAKES -- Nobody loves to field a grounder or smash a softball more than Erica Skillman. Nobody.

The Land O'Lakes second baseman, who bats third in the lineup, plays with the enthusiasm and energy of a child.

"She's like a 4-year-old going to Disney World for the first time," Land O'Lakes coach Jerry English said of the senior. "She's just awed and amazed, and glad to be on the ball field."

Who is Skillman to argue?

"I love to play," Skillman said.

Skillman also has an affinity for singing the national anthem, though teammates and fans have questioned her vocal ability. Skillman traditionally sings the anthem before practices and finally got to sing it before Wednesday's game against Tarpon Springs.

"I've always asked (English if I could sing the anthem before a game), ever since I was a freshman, and he always says no," Skillman said.

After Skillman drove in the winning run with a two-out seventh-inning double, English changed his tune.

"He said I can do it until we lose," Skillman said enthusiastically.

After that game, Bruce Patton, the team's statistician, echoed the sentiments of some Gator fans.

"She not only can sing, but she can hit well," Patton said, adding, "Not really. She can hit."

"She's funny," shortstop Samantha Harvey said of her double-play partner. "She sings the national anthem every day in practice. That, in itself, is pretty funny.

"She makes us laugh a lot. She lifts our spirits."

Keeping things light at practice is not the only way Skillman contributes. English considers her and Harvey to be the anchors of the defense, and said Skillman bats third because she produces.

Through the first three games, Skillman had a .308 average. Her two RBIs against Tarpon Springs put her in the team lead with five.

Last season, Skillman helped Land O'Lakes to the district championship and regional final before East Bay ended the Gators' season. She batted .315 with a team-leading 20 RBIs. Defensively, her 58 assists led the team.

English considers Skillman a college prospect, but the vocal leader of the Gators is more concerned with enjoying her senior season. She figures this is her last year of softball since she plans to attend the University of South Florida and become a teacher -- fifth grade, specifically.

"Fifth grade was a fun year for me," Skillman said. "I definitely don't want to teach middle school, because that's where (some students) turn bad."

As usual, Skillman had Harvey laughing with that response.

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