LAND O'LAKES — On a clear March night, on the very field Calvin Baisley has mowed — by a conservative estimate — at least a thousand times, you could've knocked the veteran Land O'Lakes coach over with a blade of that freshly cropped grass.
Minutes before the Gators' game against new crosstown rival Sunlake, Baisley recognized Seahawks coach Bill Garcia for his years of service as a longtime Land O'Lakes assistant. Cue national anthem, play ball.
Alas, there was a changeup Baisley never saw coming. His wife, parents, two of his three boys, grandson and daughter-in-law emerged from the ballpark's proverbial shadows for another pregame ceremony — to rename the facility Calvin Baisley Field.
"He had absolutely no clue," said his wife, Susan. "He was totally shocked. He had no clue that was even a thought in anybody's mind."
You'd probably sooner find a Red Sox cap in Baisley's office than a local who feels this New York native and lifelong Yankees fan wasn't deserving of such an honor. Baisley, 50, is bearing down on 400 career wins and has a literal leftfield wall covered with names of players he has sent to pro ball.
"He's worked really hard," said Gators left-hander Trey Dahl, who will play at USF next season. "He's out there every day either working on the field or working with us batting, anything. He takes a lot of his time out to make us better baseball players."
Which is why Baisley's players, before the 2008 season is out, hope to bestow one more honor upon him: the first state tournament berth of his 24-season career.
It's the one void in an otherwise ultra-successful coaching resume.
"That's what he deserves," Dahl said.
The components appear in place to make a legitimate run at it. The Gators (24-3), ranked fourth in the most recent Class 5A poll, possess two high-caliber starting pitchers — Dahl and senior righty Matt Fuglesang — as well as speed, senior leadership and periodic pop in their bats.
But it's the "periodic" part that concerns their coach, the oldest of six boys raised in Peekskill, N.Y.
"They're so hot and cold offensively," said Baisley, who has guided Land O'Lakes to the playoffs five of the past six seasons. "The one big question I see is if someone has a good pitcher. And you know we're going to run into one here pretty soon."
They have in the past. In last season's 12-inning, 3-2 region quarterfinal loss at Newsome (the Gators' playoff foe Tuesday), Wolves pitcher Matt Greer struck out 18 Land O'Lakes batters over nine innings. The 2000 Gators team (25-5), which Baisley considers his best, was no-hit by Sarasota lefty Jason Miller in the 5A region semifinals.
The year before, Baisley's club had a 3-2 lead at Merritt Island before the eventual 5A state champs scored two in the bottom of the seventh to eke out a 4-3 region semifinal win.
"When you get to the state tournament, you've got to be good, but somewhere … you've got to catch a break," Baisley said.
After a quarter-century, Baisley seems due for — and, players say, deserving of — one.
"This is the best team we've had in a while now," Dahl said. "We're really coming along together, playing good together, so we've really got a good chance of making it definitely to the state (tournament). That's big and that's what we want to get for him."