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Bucs' director knows how to keep on plugging along

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By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 30, 2001


Cedric Saunders was battling a 103-degree fever, and his Sarasota High baseball team was battling a state power, Miami Westminster.

The team appeared to give up after falling behind 6-0, and Westminster pitcher Rolando Caridad was on his way to a 16-strikeout performance.

But Saunders kept plugging.

Despite all the negativity, he jacked a home run for Sarasota to give the team their only run.

That was 1989, but it was clear to anyone at the game that a player who could produce against such odds would succeed in life. Saunders would go on to play football at Ohio State, but his NFL dreams ended in 1997 after two season with the Bucs and another playing pro ball in Europe.

But he kept plugging.

He returned to Ohio State to finish his degree in sociology. After spending two years as a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs, Saunders was named the Bucs' director of player programs this month.

It's a position which will allow him to shepherd young players who endured the same struggles he went through as a Bucs player. When he tells them to keep plugging, he won't be talking lip service.

* * *

As bad as we need rain, let's hope for good weather this afternoon. The Old Hyde Park Village music series kicks off at 6 p.m. with the Willie Lomax Blues Review.

The series is in its 13th season, and it continues to attract a diverse crowd of singles, parents, kids, dogs and fun-seekers. The only thing missing these days are the crab rolls from Selena's.

* * *

The folks at Maggiano's Little Italy like to refer to their restaurant as a "joint," but only because the vernacular helps illustrate its old-style New York City dinner house theme.

The joint, the chain's first in Florida, opens next month at WestShore Plaza, promising family style southern Italian cuisine. It'll seat 700, and unlike a lot of restaurants in that area, it'll be open for lunch every day.

The invitation-only grand opening takes place June 26, and proceeds will benefit the Tampa Museum of Art.

* * *

Matthew Alan Griffith would have been 10 this year. He may have played Little League baseball or been in Boy Scouts. And he probably would have teased his younger sister Julia.

But a rare form of cancer robbed Matthew of his life after only eight months. Rhabdomyosarcoma took Alan Griffith's son from him in March of 1992, but it didn't take his capacity to give. Since his son was first given a diagnosis of cancer in 1991, Griffith has donated platelets at the Florida Blood Service office on Fletcher every two weeks.

His count now sits at 39 gallons, and when you consider it takes several sittings to make up a gallon, that means Griffith has donated more than 300 times.

Donating platelets, which are used primarily for patients battling leukemia, requires 60 to 90 minutes, far more time than someone donating whole blood.

"I don't think about him particularly every time I go, but I do have a picture of him on my desk next to my daughter," said Griffith, who also remembers the other kids he saw battling cancer, many of whom were from out of town and couldn't see their parents.

"It's just the little bit I can do."

- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com.

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