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Solid, from next to and behind the plate

Zephyrhills catcher Brooks Boyette is a pitcher's best friend when the ball lands at 58 feet. But his offensive numbers also are a big reason the Bulldogs are two wins from a state title.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- There is a baseball-sized bruise on one arm, his throwing elbow is sore and he can tell you how and when the little pieces of skin were nicked off his shins.

Brooks Boyette loves being a catcher.

"You're in on every play," the Zephyrhills senior said. "I like blocking balls in the dirt. I try to keep the pitchers from having as many wild pitches as possible."

A pitcher's take?

"That's the dumbest position on the field," Boyette's friend and senior pitcher/infielder Graham Taylor said jokingly. "If he's dumb enough to get back there, he's dumb enough to take a beating."

In reality, Boyette has been invaluable, not only as insurance for Bulldogs pitchers, but as a batter able to pummel opponents' pitching.

Boyette is hitting .441 with 32 RBI, 50 runs, 7 home runs and leads Zephyrhills with 16 steals. He will start behind the plate Wednesday when the Bulldogs (31-2) play Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (33-1) in the Class 4A semifinals at Legends Field in Tampa.

"Brooks is going to come up big in every situation," Taylor said. "You can't really say he's better at catching than he is at hitting because he's a star at both. If you want Brooks to make a big play behind the plate, he's going to make a big play. If want him to come through with a big hit, he's going to get a big hit."

But when Boyette recalls his freshman season, he remembers himself as a skinny kid that couldn't run very well.

Though Boyette was one of three ninth-graders (Brett Cimorelli and Jossie Aponte were the others) that earned starting varsity spots, he often found himself on the bench when it came time to bat.

"I didn't like it at all," Boyette said. "I wanted to hit. I knew I would hit the ball if I got a shot. Sometimes I'd get up there, I may get a couple of at-bats a week, and it was tough for me. It was probably best for the team at the time. We had a lot of seniors on the team. They batted for me. They did a good job. It was a good move on the coaches part but I wanted to hit."

Thinking more power at the plate would get him into the batting order, Boyette devised a five-day workout plan the next season.

"I wanted to get stronger," Boyette said. "The stronger you are, the less effort you have to put in to swing the bat. The stronger you are, the better you play the game."

He started his sophomore season and hit .353 with 21 RBI. Last season he established himself as one of the county's best while still adhering to his workout regimen. Boyette batted .429 with 7 HRs, 31 RBI and 42 runs. This season he has pushed his stats even higher and his body even further.

Boyette, who finished seventh in the state weightlifting meet in March, has gained the approval and respect of his teammates and coach for his work ethic.

"He's always been a hard worker, a hard-nosed type of kid," Zephyrhills coach Bruce Cimorelli said. "He gives you 100 percent, blocks balls exceptionally well. He'll go through a wall for you."

When he's behind the plate, Boyette is busy framing pitches, talking to umpires about calls and strike zones and analyzing his pitchers.

Always analyzing.

"I feel like I communicate real well with the pitchers," Boyette said. "I can tell if they're doing something a little different than they normally do and that it's having an effect on the way they're pitching. They listen to me."

Though his career will continue next year at Hillsborough Community College, Boyette wants nothing more than to end his four years at Zephyrhills with a state championship.

"I could care less if I went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts as long as we win," he said. "I want to win. We want that ring. Ever since the beginning of the season we've been thinking about that. That would be great. That's something to show for four years of hard work."

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