DUNEDIN — The Dunedin softball players practiced Monday for another playoff game. They jogged around the bases during a makeshift scrimmage. They sang. They had fun.
No one was having a better time than Roy Silver. The Falcons coach played in the field, cracking jokes and blowing his finger like a pistol whenever he recorded an out.
“You happened to catch us on our fun day,” Silver said.
It is quite a change for the bold, intense, yet personable motivator who spent 14 seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor-league system as a player (1984-91) and manager (1992-97) and two seasons (1998-99) as the manager of the Rays’ Class A affiliate in St. Petersburg.
In 2011, Silver took over as the Falcons’ softball coach. His baptism into coaching girls did not go exactly as planned. He yelled — a lot.
“I knew I was going to have to change,” Silver said.
Two seasons later, Silver has a better understanding of what makes a softball player tick.
He has a berth in the Class 5A region final to prove it.
Dunedin is in the region final for the first time since 1991. The Falcons (16-7) will play at Auburndale on Wednesday for a berth in the state final four.
Four seasons ago, the girls won just three games. It is hard to recall a similar story line — non-playoff team, new coach, a run of suspenseful wins and upsets culminating in a region final berth — without turning to Hollywood. Yet even in a world of doctored scripts, Dunedin’s story seemed unlikely without adjustments from the players and coach.
Silver underwent the biggest change. He was an expert on coaching men and did it the only way he knew how: by drawing from his past.
After he retired as a player, Silver immediately got into coaching. He took teams with some talent and molded them into champions through discipline and an unflinching work ethic. He used that approach when he started The Winning Inning in 1999.
That’s where he was exposed to softball for the first time, working with players in hitting sessions.
“I left coaching and started The Winning Inning in part so I could be around my daughters,” Silver said.
He spent years on the sideline, watching his daughters, Samantha and Olivia, play in Little League and with travel teams. Three years ago, Silver began his first foray into coaching softball as an assistant at Dunedin.
Last year, he took over after the coach stepped down and the administration had a tough time finding a replacement.
“There were no takers,” Silver said. “It was probably going to go to a teacher or someone who was on staff at the school.”
Before Silver took the job, he asked his daughters if they would mind having him as their coach.
“We wanted him to coach,” Samantha said. “We knew he could help us win.”
Last year, the Falcons won seven games. This season, they have won more than twice as many, quite an accomplishment with four freshman starters.
“But honestly, we don’t even talk about winning,” Silver said. “We talk more about the journey to get there. And we have to have fun. That’s important. It gets them energized.
“That’s something I definitely had to learn.”
Class 2A region final
Canterbury at Boca Raton Grandview Prep: The Crusaders are trying to make their fifth straight state final four appearance and win their second straight state title. To do that, they will have to get past Grandview Prep, the team Canterbury beat in extra innings in last year’s state championship game. The Crusaders will have to face Grandview pitcher Jane Sallen again. She struck out 18 in a state semifinal game last season. But much like last season, Canterbury coach Jody Moore put together a tough schedule so her team would face quality pitching all season and be prepared for Sallen. Emily Winesett has been the Crusaders’ ace this season. But Canterbury will have to give her more run support after scoring just two runs in a victory over Southwest Florida Christian in last week’s region semifinals.
7 Tuesday night unless noted
5A: Dunedin at Auburndale*
2A: Canterbury at Boca Raton Grandview Prep, 7
*This game is Wednesday.