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Bears armed for success

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003

BROOKSVILLE -- There's the serious-looking one who's just as big a joker as the other two, the country-twanged rapper who can break it down ball coach authority. Then there's the big one, with the funny eye brows and goofy dances.

Collectively, Randy Cseh, Travis Tolbert and Josh Smith are the best of friends, wise-cracking smart-alecs who enjoy a joke for or at the expense of each other. For the Central team, they represent the top end of one of the best pitching staffs on the North Suncoast. Entering play Wednesday, the 13-5 Bears' staff had produced a collective 2.33 ERA, 105 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 123 innings.

That's a luxury in high school baseball, in which runs seemingly are as plentiful as strikes. A squad with one dependable pitcher can be dangerous in the postseason. Add another and expectations increase. Add a third, and the Bear trio's dream of reaching Legends Field and the Florida Finals may not be so far-fetched.

"They challenge you, and they throw strikes around the plate," Hernando coach Tim Sims said. "(Assistant coach Mike Ellison) does a great job calling pitches for them, and they execute and hit the spots. When you can locate in and out and up and down, you're going to be pretty good, and they do that."

Cseh, who has signed to play at Pasco-Hernando Community College, is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA; Smith is 4-3 with a 2.10; and Tolbert is 4-1 with a 4.06. Tolbert, elbows on knees, dissects the staff like someone who could eventually coach.

"Josh has more power, he bangs it in there," Tolbert said. "He says, 'Here's my fastball, hit it if you can.' Randy's got the good fastball and good curve, good changeup, can move it in and out. He's a real good pitcher to have in there. Me, to tell you the truth, I go out there to do the best I can and try to throw change-ups and keep guys off balance and move it in and out."

Their role in team chemistry is even more individual.

"I tell Travis he should have been a left-hander because he has a couple of screws loose every now and then," Central coach Gary Buel said. "Randy is more of a serious type of guy, and Josh is just kind of happy-go-lucky."

That he is. Tall, overt in manner and expression, Smith talks with his hands, sometimes seemingly about to grab you by the shoulders and shake you as he makes his point. You'd buy a used car from this guy.

"People look at us because we act goofy and have fun," Smith said. "Hey, you only live once. We like to do stupid things just to have a laugh and a good time."

For Smith, that's the dance. "Josh is just comical," Tolbert said. "He makes these funny faces ... he's so big and goofy and he dances. He has these real thick eyebrows so he does these funny faces and dances around and it's real funny."

And so begins the chain reaction. Cseh cracks up, and Tolbert interjects a comment. "I'm the laugher," Tolbert said, leaning back to chuckle at just the thought of it. "I laugh at everything they do and add my little thing in there. It's round robin type deal."

Then the rapping begins. "We have no idea what it's about," Smith smiled, recalling one of Tolbert's dugout raps. 'He just comes up with these raps about hot sauce and he gets going."

Cseh comes across as the serious one, but it takes just a small amount of prodding from Smith, a friend since age 9, and Tolbert, a friend since 13, to get him going. They are among the select few that know he is ruled by more than work ethic.

"I have to listen to the same song in the car the whole day when I pitch: 2112 from Rush," Cseh admitted. "I started doing it when we were 3-0 and I stopped. Then we lost three in a row so I started again."

That it?

"My locker," Cseh said. "Whenever I shut my locker, I have to set the combination number to 10. That's my uniform number. ... And I always wear my game jersey to school when I pitch."

Whatever the reasons, the tumblers have aligned for the Bears. A few seasons ago, ace Patrick Ryan gave the Bears a chance to win every game he pitched, and eventually took them to regional play three straight seasons. The nights he did not pitch were nebulous. Now, the Bears know they have a chance every time out.

"It was kind of like a struggle," said Cseh, who was a sophomore in Ryan's senior season. "When he was on the mound we knew we had to win. Now we know we have a chance every day, not just once a week."

Some staffs thrive on competition. This one, Tolbert said, stays strong by not worrying about each other's statistics.

"We have good pitching with Randy and Josh and I don't know where I came from," said Tolbert. "The thing is, there's no competition between us three, not at all. Ask us who throws well, (and) we'll say, 'Him, him, him' and everyone but your self."

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