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Reserve role didn't mean pine time

By JOHN COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2001


They were the adults, but they learned a thing or two Christmas Day.

They learned that sometimes, the kid can show you how to act. The kid can flash you a glimpse of maturity. The kid can impress you.

Phil Stillwell found out, with 30 relatives in the house ready to celebrate the year's biggest day, that he was no longer the starting shortstop at Seminole. Found out a bigger, faster, better kid named Bryan Bass was moving into town, and the experts said he might be the best player in the country.

Phil Sr. seethed. Grandma Jean wondered why this was so. After all, hadn't her grandson played well enough his junior season as the starter to deserve a return engagement?

Mom was furious.

"My sister told me that a really good player was moving in, and I just looked at her and said, "What did you say?,"' Debbie Stillwell said. "What did you say?'

"I took it the worst."

Phil, the kid, took it the best. Admitted he was down at first, but wasn't going to mope. Said he moved on.

"God would make everything okay," Phil said.

Phil was right. Everything was okay Friday night. Phil helped make it so with two hits and three RBI in Seminole's 7-2 win.

The kid taught everyone a lesson.

"He showed us that if you're patient things will work themselves out," Grandma Jean said. "He took it so well. Never got upset.

"But I still don't think we needed (Bass), thank you very much."

Mom wasn't quite so, ummm, diplomatic.

She remembers thinking at the time that everything was falling apart, that all those Little League games and long trips and hours working the concession stand were going to be pushed aside just like her son was.

"I thought we'd be here," she said, "but that I'd be twiddling my thumbs rooting for other parents' kids. I mean, this was his senior year. You don't get that back."

It wasn't fair. The Stillwell's knew it. "Everyone knew it," she said.

But what was Seminole coach Scott Miller to do? An All-American fell into his lap, and like it or not, he had to play him.

Didn't he?

So Miller pleaded with the local newspaper to include Stillwell in a preseason story on the team's key players. Stillwell will still play, he said.

Just not at his position. He'd do a little pitching. Play a little outfield. Maybe get some infield work in.

He just wouldn't be starting at his position.

It was taken.

Debbie could empathize with Miller's decision.

"But I didn't like it, at all," she said.

"Phil picked pine for two years behind Kevin Cordes, started last year and did a darn good job, and then this All-American comes over? What chance did my son, my 160-pounder, have to beat out the No. 1 player in the country?"

None. So Debbie, naturally, didn't like Bass much. Then one morning, shortly after Seminole started practice, she came downstairs to find her son eating breakfast with another player.

The All-American. Phil had made a new friend, and it was the enemy.

At least that's how Debbie saw it ... at first.

"At first when I saw him I was just ... ooooh boy," she said, clenching her teeth. "But I love Bryan. I really do. Great kid.

"That's something, huh?"

As is this: Phil has proven that Bass was not the missing piece of the puzzle. Maybe Bass, who was declared ineligible after 10 games, could have had those two hits Friday night, the first one driving in Seminole's first run and breaking the team out of a funk; the second driving in two more to put Tate away.

But it was Phil Stillwell who drove those runs in, and don't you forget it.

"With everything that happened," Debbie said, "that just makes this twice as nice."

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