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A whole new world

Three of the Zephyrhills' four record-setting sluggers are gone, leaving Danny Wardell with something to prove.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


This is respect.

It's the last inning, there's a runner on first base, there are no outs and the score is tied. You come to bat only to find out the opponent is intentionally walking you and putting the winning run on second.

It's a move that goes against the very creed of the baseball gods.

This is Danny Wardell's new world.

This is Danny Wardell's new challenge.

This is Danny Wardell's senior season.

"You have to be careful with him," Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley said. "I know he isn't going to see much to hit against us."

Last year, the Zephyrhills standout saw beach balls. Batting leadoff in the county's most formidable lineup ever, ahead of the likes of 2000 Player of the Year Brett Cimorelli, 1999 Player of the Year Mike Stepp and all-stater Brooks Boyette, Wardell teed off on county pitching.

He led the county in batting with a .525 average, tied for the lead with Cimorelli with 16 home runs, scored 53 runs and had 41 RBI. His slugging percentage of 1.080 was a school and county record.

That was then. This is now.

Though he is bigger and stronger, the big bats that protected Wardell in the lineup are gone, leaving the leftfielder-turned-shortstop and pitcher to carry the offensive load. Impressive junior Kyle Watson, who showed good power last year, will hit behind him in the cleanup spot, but will it be enough to ensure Wardell gets something to hit?

"I've already noticed the difference," Wardell said.

"It's going to be tougher," Ridgewood coach Larry Beets said. "No one will want to pitch to him. But when he gets something to take a cut at, it's enjoyable to watch. He and (Hernando's) Dee Brown, they come out of their shoes when they swing. Those are two big and strong guys."

Zephyrhills coach Bruce Cimorelli admits that the Bulldogs will be rebuilding around Wardell, and he hopes they can hit around him too.

"Danny Wardell is a proven player, so teams will say to our other players, "Go ahead and prove you can beat me,"' Cimorelli said. "But Kyle Watson swings the bat pretty well behind him."

Cimorelli's fear is that Wardell might become frustrated if his numbers decrease.

As the walks mount and the bad pitches pile up, Wardell will be hard-pressed to keep from swinging. Wardell admits he has already swung at too many bad pitches trying to force his offense.

Generally, Wardell is a patient hitter willing to wait for a pitcher to make the mistake. And if Watson produces, it will be even easier to take the walks.

But Wardell also wants to prove that he is not solely the product of a great lineup.

"I want to prove everyone wrong, all the people who said the people behind me in the order is why I hit so well," said Wardell, who already has two home runs in three games. "I know a lot of people are thinking that."

It's all about adapting. What was up is down; what was black is white. From the leadoff spot to No. 3; from the outfield to playing short; from spot starting to being the team ace; from leading off a great lineup to anchoring an unproven one; from being a quiet junior on a state championship-caliber team to being a vocal leader on one expected to struggle.

This is Danny Wardell's new world.

This is Danny Wardell's new challenge.

This is Danny Wardell's senior season.

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