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LUTZ — Former major-league baseball player Danny Bautista watched his son, Gerald, mimic swinging a bat with sticks and pencils as a child.
Wednesday, he watched his son trade in that pencil for a pen and sign a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Florida.
“He was throwing the ball all over the house, you know, and it was like, ‘He has a dream, too,’” Danny said, laughing at the memory. “He loved the game and we supported him, and that’s all we could do.”
Gerald, the third baseman and pitcher who was dressed in baseball-themed infant clothes when he was still in the hospital, inked his commitment alongside teammate Chris Williams, a pitcher who signed with Tampa’s Saint Leo University, a Division II program.
“I could walk in and be the No. 3 pitcher,” said Williams, who wanted to stay in Florida to be close to his mom. “At Saint Leo I can make an impact right away.”
Steinbrenner coach John Crumbley will be counting on both Bautista, who hit .382 with five homers and 19 RBIs last season, and Williams, owner of a 2.20 ERA with 39 strikeouts and 54 innings, to help lead the third-year program past the district semifinals, where the Warriors’ season has ended the past two years.
Over the summer, though, Bautista worked out and practiced in the Dominican Republic with the Cleveland Indians organization. Since Bautista holds dual citizenship between the United States and the Dominican Republic, he could have opted to sign a professional contract and forgo his senior season.
“There was some uncertainty this summer,” Crumbley said. “I’ve been doing this long enough that I didn’t get too up or too down before I saw him in school, because you never know.”
The younger Bautista, who followed alongside his father during his 11-year MLB career with the Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks, said he always knew he’d be back in Lutz for his senior season. As for the possibility that he will sign a professional contract after the MLB draft this spring and give up his NCAA eligibility, he said that he will have to wait and see.
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Bautista said of the draft. “It all comes down to if I’m ready to play professional baseball, and money-wise,” he said.
This spring, 30 of the 32 first-round draft picks received a signing bonus of more than $1 million. The last two players drafted in the first round received $963,000 and $936,000, respectively.