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Support system in place for Dunedin
Locals offer the Little League team everything from history to helmets.
By BRANDON WRIGHT
Published August 5, 2006
GULFPORT - Rich Jeffries surveyed the outfield, barking assignments. Dennis Duncan hit ground balls to infielders. Jerry Lappert stopped by to shag balls and drop off 13 new royal blue batting helmets. Jeremy Kurella brought a scrapbook full of memories that could have passed for a New York City telephone directory.
All in preparation for the biggest few days of 13 young boys' lives.
Dunedin opens play in the Little League Southeast Regional at 7 tonight against Columbia, Tenn., at Arnold S. White Stadium. It is the first time a Pinellas County team has advanced this far since 1991.
"It will be amazing," Dunedin leftfielder T.J. Bourdeau said. "Every kid wants a chance at this."
Dunedin's chances have been bolstered of late through the help of a community that realizes what is at stake. A win at the regionals books Dunedin a trip to Little League's version of the promised land, the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
"Anything I could do to help," said Lappert, who owns Cool Water Pool and Spa in the Tampa Bay area. "This is a dream come true for these kids."
Lappert, Jeffries, Duncan and Kurella were among those pitching in at Dunedin's practices this week. None is a coach, but all are part of the process.
"People in the community have been starting to hear about what these kids are doing and the support has been overwhelming," manager Matt Morrow said. "We're turning into one big family."
Jeffries, boyfriend of pitcher Colyn O'Connell's mother, has been a commanding presence at practices, reinforcing the need for focus.
"You could see as the week went along, they started getting more serious," Jeffries said. "At the start of the week I didn't think they were ready, but they are now."
Duncan, an assistant baseball coach at Dunedin High, has been chipping in with drills and working with pitchers. Duncan said he has been careful "not to step on any of the coaches' toes," but wanted a way to give back.
"I was 10 years old when the 1991 team went, and I can still tell you every player on that team and probably run down each game they played," Duncan said. "That team was huge around here."
But perhaps no one made as much of an impact as Kurella, a shortstop on the 1991 Dunedin national team that reached the World Series. Kurella brought his press clippings from Dunedin national's run to a team party after the state tournament.
"It was all 'oohs' and 'aahs,' " Kurella said. "They were checking out our uniforms from back (in 1991) and just full of questions."
Kurella, a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said Dunedin will have a huge advantage playing near home.
"The place was going berserk when we took the field for the first time," he said. "It felt like we were floating out to our positions."
Kurella said his clearest memory was the final out of the regionals. "Ground ball to my right, our third baseman D DeSantis fielded it and fired to first," he said. "Then all the gloves started flying in the air."
The outpouring of support hasn't been lost on the players.
"It's been really cool to see all these volunteers helping us out," Emery said. "It makes us feel good."
Dunedin reached the regionals after sweeping through district, sectional and state play with a 13-0 record. The team has scored 111 runs while surrendering just 29. Dunedin rounds out pool play with West Virginia at 5 p.m. Sunday and Georgia at 7 Monday night. The winner and runnerup of each pool move on to Wednesday's semifinal, with the championship game televised Friday night on ESPN.
Arnold S. White Stadium seats about 1,500, but Duncan said it is unlikely all fans will find spots.
"I'd be surprised and disappointed if there weren't 2,000 people there (today)," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that the community will get out there to show support."
In many ways, they already have.
2 B.J. Anderson, catcher
5 Brett Beery, rightfield
00 T.J. Bourdeau, leftfield
1 Josh Brackenhamer, rightfield
9 Kellen Brown, second base
7 Ben Emery, catcher
22 Alex Hart, third base
8 Hayden Hersh, second base
4 Will Honeycutt, pitcher
13 Noah Klassen, pitcher
11 Alex Koehl, shortstop
3 Colyn O'Connell, first base
34 Will Priest, centerfield
Tournament played at Arnold S. White Stadium in Gulfport. Admission is free.