NORTHDALE — A Hillsborough County high school baseball coach will guide his players through a final game this year, maybe as early this week.
Frank Permuy, the only baseball coach Gaither High School has ever known, enters district play this week having already decided to retire when the seasons ends. Permuy's legacy, however, already has been sealed with former players and coaches.
"I don't think people realize just what he's done in Hillsborough County," said Wharton Wildcats head baseball coach Scott Hoffman, one of the many former players and coaches who trace their involvement in the game back to Permuy.
"He's the reason I coach, the reason I do what I do."
Hoffman was a player and assistant coach for Permuy before Wharton was even built. Hoffman brought the first district title in school history to Wharton and models his coaching method after his mentor's.
"He was a big influence," Hoffman said. "He taught us how to be prepared, how to be a coach and how to deal with people."
Permuy, now 70, is in his 31st season at Gaither. Things have come a long way since 1984.
"I was there when we painted a 3-foot fence in the outfield," Hoffman said. "What's there, now, he built that."
Permuy would be the first to tell you he didn't do it alone.
"Everything you see out there, we raised funds for it," Permuy said, looking out onto the field that is soon likely to bear his name.
The batting cages, the press box, the concession stand nearer the baseball field, the clubhouse, the upgrades to the outfield wall, even the sprinkler system were all the result of Permuy's and the team's fundraising efforts and gumption.
"We got $86,000 worth of new lights and we paid it off in four years," Permuy said.
Gaither's baseball field is widely regarded as one of the best in the county. However, Permuy's legacy goes far beyond wood and paint, concrete and chalk. It lives in the hearts and minds of the people he's worked with, people whose lives he's touched.
Permuy was not too many years removed from a state championship as skipper of the Tampa Catholic Crusaders in 1982, when he first met John Crumbley.
"I remember my second year coaching at Jesuit in 1986, Frank was going up to the American Baseball Coaches Association convention," said Crumbley, the longtime Jesuit coach who now leads Steinbrenner. "He let me and some of the other younger coaches come along and sleep on the floor. It was the start of 17-straight national clinics we went to together.
"He (Permuy), Pop (Cuesta), and Jim (Macaluso) those were my mentors," Crumbley added. "They would let me pick their brains and I wanted to run my program after the most successful coaches in the area."
Crumbley would go on to win three state titles with Jesuit in 1994, 1997 and in 2000. He was neither the first nor the last coach to win a state title with Permuy as a mentor.
Alonso coach Landy Faedo won state titles in 2009 and 2011. Faedo served as an assistant under Permuy for nine years at Gaither, his first job coaching high school baseball. He and Hoffman were on Permuy's staff together for a few years.
Faedo came into the fold catching Permuy's bullpen during American Legion summer baseball in 1983.
"My cousin played for Frank's American Legion team that made state, I wasn't even on the team," Faedo said. "It was an act of kindness that I've always remembered."
Permuy even had current Robinson head coach Kevin McCray on his staff for a time. Permuy's development of players is another part of his legacy.
Permuy coached Dave Magadan during American Legion summer ball and Magadan went on to have a 16-year career in the majors. More recently, shortstop Oscar Mercado, was selected in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 MLB draft.
Permuy's legacy is cemented as he embarks on what will be his final district tournament this week. His 16-6 team will host Freedom at Sickles High School in the first round of the Class 7A, District 8 tournament on Tuesday.
What Permuy leaves behind is clear.
What does he take with him?
"Memories," Permuy said. "You can never replace that and it can't be just one. Just the other day against Wiregrass, Randy Oliva, who had only hit three home runs all year, hit a walk-off grand slam. When does that happen?"
Permuy remembers the run to the state finals in 2005, and the pile of players on the field after an upset win over Seminole in 2012. But it's the coaches and players who will remember Permuy, long after he's gone.
Andy Warrener can be reached at [email protected]