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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Wade Boggs: Hall of Fame 2005
'A billion ground balls'
By SCOTT PURKS
Published July 24, 2005
TAMPA - David Fyfe never beat Wade Boggs to Plant High's field.
"And," Fyfe said, "I do mean never."
That's interesting for two reasons.
No.1: Fyfe was the coach, and he said he arrived at least an hour early to prepare for practice.
No.2: From 1974-76, Boggs was one of Hillsborough County's premier prep players, a status that has turned more than a few young men into slacking prima donnas.
"But not Wade," Fyfe said, "not for a second. Wade was a worker, a worker like you've never seen."
Sometimes, Boggs just about wore Fyfe out.
"I hit him a billion ground balls," said Fyfe, who coached Plant from 1973-87 and now is an administrator at Robinson High. "He couldn't get enough. "Give me another and another.' That's the way he was every single day."
Was he the best athlete Fyfe ever coached?
"Not necessarily," Fyfe said. "I had a couple of guys who were really, really great athletes. Guys who went on to play very well in college and the pros. But was Boggs the most successful? Of course. Did I think he was going to be a Hall of Famer? Well, you can never say that one of your high school players is going to do that well.
"I did know this, though: He loved to work, and he was the best hitter I ever had. He was amazing."
Boggs hit .522 as a junior and .485 as a senior. But how he ended his high school career was nothing short of phenomenal.
He had 26 hits among his final 33 at-bats - a .788 average.
"It even sounds crazy," Fyfe said.
Fyfe remembers plenty of major-league scouts hanging around during Boggs' prep days. But often it was to check out an opponent. One night, a bunch came to see Brandon pitcher Sammy Spence.
What they saw was Boggs go 4-for-4.
"And he hit every one of them right on the sweet spot," Fyfe said. "Everything was drilled."
All the statistics and memorable scenes aside, Fyfe, as Boggs concurred, remembers those days in Tampa being "so much fun."
"The kids on that team all grew up together, playing Little League and (American) Legion," Fyfe said. "They were a close group, and I never had a problem with any of them. Boggs was a captain and a leader, and I remember him having a great life.
"He had a wonderful family that allowed him to focus and play the game. And he loved the game: hitting, pitching, running, throwing. He loved every single little thing about it."
Boggs, who said, "I have nothing but great memories of growing up in Tampa," said he believed he had a chance to be something special well before high school. "Maybe when I was 7 or 8, when we played sandlot," Boggs said of Davis Islands, where he lived. "I could always throw harder than people. I could always hit the ball farther than the other kids, and I could consistently hit the ball when everybody else was swinging and missing. I mean, if they threw me a pitch, I'd hit it every time, and most of the other kids would strike out like eight or nine times in a row. But every time somebody threw me a ball, I would hit it - and hit it a lot farther.
"I always knew at 10, 11, 12 and a little earlier than that when we were playing softball or sandlot or stickball that I had a gift, and the gift was hitting."
Fielding? Not so much.
Yes, he was among the best fielders in Little League and high school, playing shortstop at Plant. But scouts were skeptical of his range, arm and glove. As a result, Boggs said one of the best moves of his career was switching to third base.