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Baseball | Region finals

Beloved Pasco baseball coach has given much

“I go to the baseball field to get peace of mind,” veteran Pasco coach Ricky Giles says.

LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN | Times

“I go to the baseball field to get peace of mind,” veteran Pasco coach Ricky Giles says.

DADE CITY — He sits in the dugout's shadow on an overturned 5-gallon bucket, barking instructions to his kids in that unmistakable bellow that carries like a Coors Field fly ball.

On this day, Pasco coach Ricky Giles is at Southard Stadium at Saint Leo University, acclimating his club to the college-sized ballpark dimensions it will encounter at this weekend's best-of-three region finals in Palatka. But really, any ballpark would do.

Any place where clay needs watered, grass needs cut or a kid needs direction would seem to suffice for the man who has guided the Pirates the past decade and a half.

For Giles, a religious man, the ballfield is a secular sanctuary.

"I go to the baseball field to get peace of mind," said Giles, 54, a father of nine (ages 13 to 36). "I can go to the baseball field and get on that tractor and cut grass and I can get peace of mind."

This is what Giles gets from his profession, and it has made him content. But what he gives has made him beloved.

"He does so many things that you wouldn't even imagine," Pirates junior catcher Jorge Jaramillo said.

The sentiment seems darned near universal. Scour the annals of Pirates baseball during the past 15 years and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who portrays Giles — who won his 300th game a couple of weeks ago — as anything other than a super-sized package of brawn, brashness and benevolence.

"He's a huge man physically," said Daniel Boyd, who starred on Giles' 1997 club that reached the Class 4A state title game. "And I would say that his heart's twice as big as his stature."

This is what often is shrouded beneath that imposing veneer.

Go to a Pirates game and you'll see Giles in the third-base coach's box exhorting hitters, chastising baserunners, even hollering directives to the first-base coach in a baritone roar high on decibels, minimal on tact and big on effectiveness. Pasco has reached the state playoffs in 11 of his 15 seasons.

But what is less conspicuous is the fact that Giles has been known to dig into his own pocket to buy cleats for a kid. Or that he annually takes the Pirates to a summer wooden-bat tournament in Tennessee, leaving a day or two early so the kids can take in some local tourist spots.

"I think the biggest thing that Ricky does right is that he shows those kids that he truly cares about them, and in return they care about him," said Pirates athletic director Jim Ward, a longtime Giles friend and fellow Pirates football assistant. "I mean, those kids would run through block walls for Ricky."

Boyd concurs. "He's one of the best I've ever seen in building a team and getting everybody to work as a team," said Boyd, who spent four years in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. "At the high school level, that's huge."

It's a mutual player-coach devotion that transcends race. If Mattie Lee and Benjamin Giles taught their son anything, it was to treat everyone equally, or else. The lesson was reinforced by, among others, venerable Zephyrhills baseball coach John Clements, for whom Giles played before graduating in 1972.

Thirty-six years later, Giles took all his players — only one of whom is African-American — to his predominantly black church for a recent Sunday of testimonies, food and fellowship.

"All my coaches were white guys. I never had a black coach," said Giles, a power-hitting Bulldogs outfielder who once tried out for the Cincinnati Reds in Tampa and later became a Dade City fast-pitch softball legend.

"Clements, he instilled that. It didn't matter to Clements what color you were or whatever. And I had a principal, Raymond B. Stewart, who was the same way. Raymond didn't play that. And I think that when I had a chance to really look at it, those guys had a big impression in my life."

Giles harnesses those impressions and pays them forward to this generation. When Ward told the team after a district semifinal win against Springstead that the victory was their coach's 300th, Giles insists he had no idea the milestone was even approaching.

But the scene that followed the announcement was telling: the Pirates players surrounding their coach, overwhelming him with back slaps, whoops and whistles.

"There's something the good Lord gave me that I can jell with them," Giles said. "I might not be the smartest coach out there, but there's something we're doing right. I just figure that, we see a kid going somewhere or getting something out of it, that's what it's all about.

"Because it definitely ain't the money."

>>Fast facts

Class 4A,

Region 2 final

Pasco (25-5) at Palatka Panthers (22-8)

Format: Best-of-three series begins at 4 p.m. today. The second game will be played 30 minutes after the first ends. The third game, if necessary, is at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Azalea Bowl, Palatka

Cost: $6 per day

If you go: At state roads 19 and 20 in Palatka, head east on SR 20 and go through four traffic lights. Turn right on Mosley Avenue and follow it south until you see the National Guard Armory on the left. The baseball field is behind the armory.

If you stay: There are several hotels in Palatka, though Gainesville and Ocala are relatively nearby.

Beloved Pasco baseball coach has given much 05/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 9:53am]

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