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Field of dreams or nightmares?

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published May 8, 2007


DADE CITY - Since Quintin Jones smacked the single that scored Josh Schofield that clinched a Pasco victory that sends them into tonight's region championship against Orlando Bishop Moore, a team that handed them one of the most painful losses in school history, senior second baseman Will Pullin has done a lot of daydreaming.

Unfortunately, much of it has taken place in the classroom, where he sheepishly admits he fell asleep for a good 20 minutes in AP Calculus Monday afternoon.

He was catching up on the shuteye he hasn't been getting at night, as vision's of tonight's game keep dancing in his head.

"I haven't stopped thinking about it, " Pullin said. "How can you? It's what we've been playing for all our lives."

His world is a blur at the moment. Schoolwork is lost as he imagines making the big play or delivering the big hit. Boy, he thinks, how that would feel.

He confesses he didn't learn a thing in class Monday. All he can really remember is dissecting a cat with teammate Dustin Brown.

"Everything's on hold, " he said. "I mean, come on, it's the biggest game of my life."

* * *

Tonight at 7, Pullin and eight of his teammates will start for the Pirates 26-3 in arguably the most anticipated baseball game in Dade City history.

This season there won't be a matchup of the top teams in the state for a state championship because that game happens tonight - Bishop Moore is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A; Pasco is No. 2.

There have been state championships (1957) and state finals (1997) for the Pirates, but those weren't in Dade City, where the success of a team is measured by how many folding captains chairs you can squeeze in from the backstop fence to the leftfield corner.

The Pirates faithful will roll in on their lunch breaks, just long enough to set up their chairs along the fences on each side of the Pasco dugout. Then they will slip back to the office.

It's the strangest darned sight for the players, who showed up at 3:45 p.m. Friday before their win over North Marion to find a row of empty chairs staking claim to the best seats in the house.

Coach Ricky Giles said he expects a few cars to be waiting when he swings open the gate to his parking lot today at 3:30 p.m.

It's a gentleman's arrangement for box seating. It goes like this, from left to right of Pasco's dugout: the Maggards, the Hedmans, the Johnsons, the Schraders and pressed into the corner where the backstop meets the pressbox, the Hobbses.

Down the leftfield line, the Joneses, the Karppes, the JV parents and wives of the assistant coaches.

Pullin's parents, Debbie and Dan, will sit in the second or third row of the bleachers, mingling with the remaining parents and grandparents and friends, while others will stand or sit on their pickup trucks on the hills that border the field.

If you want a good seat, it's probably already too late.

"There's been people who have set up their seat in the same spot for four to five years, " said assistant coach Bruce Lee. "You don't want to mess with that."

* * *

If there is any doubt this game will be the biggest ever held at the Pirates' homefield, affectionately dubbed Death Valley, consider these words from longtime coach Lenny Cimador and longtime Pasco historian Gerald Newton:

"It is."

Cimador, who coached Pasco from 1966-92 and won more than 400 games, should know. After all, he built Death Valley in 1980 after years of success at Massey Field and Optimist Park.

He's not sure if it was he who coined the nickname Death Valley, or whether it was Newton, but he's certain it came during a conversation the two were having sometime in the mid 1980s.

"We came up with it because at the time, it was pretty tough for anyone to win there, " Cimador said.

The closest Cimador came to a game of this magnitude was in 1978, when Tampa Catholic bounced him out of the playoffs 6-1 in Tampa. For now, the 1997 state championship ranks as the biggest in school history, though Tampa Jesuit won that game in Tampa. And two years ago, Bishop Moore (28-1 this season) devastated the Pirates with a walk-off grand slam in what might be the most memorable game, played in Orlando.

* * *

Junior Aaron Brandt (9-0) will start tonight's game for Pasco, and even that decision is one that weighs heavily on Giles. He hems and haws, but says finally that yes, it's Brandt's turn and he will start.

But in the same breath he says he knows his Pirates can't afford the slow start his pitchers have given him in two playoff victories, so the leash will be short.

Every decision Giles makes tonight will be scrutinized, as will the one he made in 2005.

That year, against Bishop Moore, Giles made the unusual call to intentionally walk Max Sapp, the country's 19th-rated prospect that year by Baseball America, with the bases loaded and his team winning 5-1.

That made it 5-2 and brought Eric Broberg to the plate; he hit a grand slam to beat the Pirates.

Not a day goes by that Giles doesn't still think about that decision. That game. The homer.

"I gambled and lost, " Giles said. "You can't help but think of that one."

Kyle Hobbs, the centerfielder on that team, remembers running to the fence, climbing the fence, reaching over the fence and falling from the fence. His glove was empty, so he just lay in the grass.

He's over it, though if he lets himself think about it a knot forms in his stomach. But for so many at the 2005 game, whether on the field or in the stands, tonight presents another chance.

Kyle's brother, Trevor, is Pasco's starting centerfielder.

"I'm living this one through him, " Kyle said.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (727) 869-6261 or johncotey@gmail.com.

Fast Facts:

 

Class 4A region final

Who: No. 1 Orlando Bishop Moore (28-1) at No. 2 Pasco (26-3), 7 tonight

Admission: $6.

At stake: Tonight's winner advances to the state semifinals May 18 at Sarasota's Ed White Stadium to meet the winner of tonight's Miami Belen Jesuit-Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons game.