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Gibbs boasts improvement among its winless rut

From left, Brandon Clemons, Mariano Everst, coach George Lehr and David Washington may be on a Gibbs team that hasn’t won in two seasons, but they aren’t ready for it all to end.

\uFEFFJOHN C. COTEY | Times

From left, Brandon Clemons, Mariano Everst, coach George Lehr and David Washington may be on a Gibbs team that hasn’t won in two seasons, but they aren’t ready for it all to end.

ST. PETERSBURG — The baseball season at Gibbs will probably come to an end today, you might say rather mercifully.

In 25 games, the Gladiators haven't won yet.

In the first two years of George Lehr's coaching career, he is 0-51.

And counting.

Look around, though, and the mismatched and piecemeal Gladiators hardly look like a beaten team, though they have been many times.

They are laughing as they take batting practice, moving invisible runners around the bases, arguing with Lehr's dad, Bob, over some of his calls from behind the plate.

When it's over, players pull the bases out of the ground, drag a batting screen off the field and gather in the dugout for one final pep talk.

If you are looking for a team that is ready to get this thing over with, you are in the wrong place.

"Sometimes you want to quit, you think about it," said catcher Brandon Clemons, a sophomore who hasn't tasted victory since enrolling at Gibbs. "But you just gotta hang in there."

A second straight winless season awaits the Gladiators, who have lost roughly 60 straight games dating back to 2006, unless Lehr can convince his boys to deliver a miracle.

Some say he already has.

"I'll say this," said Seminole coach Greg Olsen. "They are 100 percent better than they were last year."

Just ask junior centerfielder David Washington, a kid who knows that different programs need to start with different measuring sticks.

"Last year, we weren't scoring runs, we weren't even making it to the seventh inning (because of the 10-run rule)," he said. "Now, we're playing seven innings. And I feel like we're getting closer to winning."

It was only 10 years ago this month that Gibbs baseball was the talk of Tampa Bay.

In 1998, Boof Bonser led the team to the state semifinals, while Lehr was pitching his final season for Pinellas Park.

Lehr moved on to college, then dozens of pro tryouts and finally a short career playing independent league baseball for teams in places like Amarillo, Texas, and Chillicothe, Ohio.

By the time he returned, and after Tim King valiantly tried to keep the Gladiators afloat before leaving in 2004, Gibbs baseball drowned.

Of course, Lehr had no idea it had sunk all the way to the bottom when he applied for the job.

"I knew nothing except they had a math job and were looking for a baseball coach," he said. "When I first met them, I thought, 'Wow. We are really young.' "

And raw.

His starting third baseman is playing only his second season of organized baseball. His starting rightfielder hadn't swung a baseball bat since he was 9. He had to put his best player behind the plate, because he needed someone who could catch.

Oh, and play catcher.

The Gladiators have shown renewed spunk since losing to Largo 13-9 earlier this season. Washington said it was the first time he could remember his teammates actually wishing they had another game the next day, to get back out there.

"That pumped us up," Washington said.

In another game, Gibbs led Lakewood 5-1, and in the final inning it was 5-4 with two outs and a runner on third. An error tied the game, which Gibbs lost the next frame.

"Aww man, that game … that was the game," said Mariano Everst, a Lakewood transfer.

Now the last game awaits, and Everst can't believe it's almost over. He wants to keep playing.

The baseball season at Gibbs will probably come to an end today, you might say rather mercifully.

The Gladiators will tell you it's too soon.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com or (813) 909-4612.

Gibbs boasts improvement among its winless rut 04/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 3:31pm]
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