After waiting for a chance to play, the Tampa Catholic junior turns in a memorable performance in the final.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001
TAMPA -- All Dennard Span wanted was a chance.
The Tampa Catholic junior knew he could play baseball. He knew he could play well. But for a while there, he felt like he was the only one.
All he needed was a chance to show everyone else, Span used to tell himself.
Well, there's no better -- or bigger -- place than the Class 3A state tournament at Legends Field.
Span turned the two-day tournament into his own highlight reel.
In Thursday's final against Orlando Bishop Moore, Span went 2-for-4 with three RBI and a dazzling, running catch in centerfield. Wednesday, he finished 1-for-4 with a game-tying, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh. He also started a magnificent sixth-inning double play from rightfield.
By the time Span was finished raising eyebrows, the Crusaders were raising their ninth state championship trophy. "It feels real good," Span said. "It's unbelievable. Astonishing."
For Span, it was a state title that almost never happened.
Span didn't become a Crusader until January, when he transferred after attending Hillsborough High for 21/2 years. The change benefitted both parties as Span brought some much-needed athleticism to a school where he would be showcased.
"I knew when he got here, he had tremendous talent," Tampa Catholic coach Chuck Yingling said. "He's a fantastic athlete. I told him if he wanted to show his stuff, the state tournament is a great lead-in to your senior year."
The athleticism is apparent the second you look at Span's 6-foot, 170-pound frame. The urge to allow him to use it apparently isn't.
In football at Hillsborough, Span used his first opportunity to play receiver full time to turn in a team-high 17 receptions for 396 yards and 5 touchdowns. He spent the first part of last baseball season on the Terriers bench, behind centerfielder Morrin Davis, who now plays in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. It was there that Span waited, knowing he could play but not getting the chance to show it. Then the team's leftfielder got injured.
With no other choice, Span was inserted into the starting lineup. The rest reads like a movie script.
"I didn't start at the beginning of the year, but the first game he put me in to start, I made a great catch," Span said. "And I never came out after that."
Opportunity received, opportunity capitalized upon. It's the story of Span's career. He wasn't about to let the biggest opportunity of his career pass silently.
"I knew I had to prove myself to everyone else," Span said. "I knew I could play, and my teammates knew I could play because they see me in practice every day. But I really wanted to prove to everyone else. I didn't feel like I was getting the recognition I deserved."