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Gulfport's star-studded Little League resume

He was a 12-year-old right-handed pitcher and shortstop who became an all-star for his West Asheville, N.C., Little League team.

His name: Cal Ripken Jr.

He was an 11-year-old left-handed pitcher who became the leader of his Huntsville, Ala., Little League team.

His name: Jimmy Key.

In 1973, both played in what was then the Southern Regional tournament in Gulfport. Their teams were in opposite brackets and neither one made it to the championship game.

But for the fans here who watched them grow up, watched them play when it was still play, their appearance became more significant years down the road.

Ripken went on to play in a record 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles and is in the Hall of Fame.

Key won 186 games for the Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles in a 15-year major-league career and nabbed two World Series championships.

"My memory is a little fuzzy, but I do remember both being here at that time," said Charlie Brush, 92, a former volunteer at the Southern Regional. "It's funny because you don't think too much about them back then because they were so young."

Ripken and Key were not the only stars to make their way through Gulfport, where fans take joy in tracking a player's progress as if he were their own child and they were marking his height on the bedroom wall.

Here are some others:

Tim Beckham

The Rays' No. 1 draft pick (first overall) this year quit baseball early on to concentrate on football and basketball.

His family encouraged him to get back into baseball and he helped his Columbus, Ga., Little League team advance to the 2002 Southeast Regional.

This past season, Beckham hit .500 with five home runs and had 16 stolen bases. He was ranked by Baseball America as the top high school prospect in the country. He currently is playing for the Princeton Devil Rays of the Appalachian League.

Derek Bell

The former major-leaguer and King High grad helped Tampa's Belmont Heights Little League team reach the finals of the World Series in 1980 and '81, losing to Taiwan both times.

He was selected in the second round of the 1987 amateur baseball draft. He batted .276 with 134 home runs in an 11-year major-league career with the Blue Jays, Padres, Astros, Mets and Pirates.

Bell was the first major-leaguer to play in two Little League World Series.

Lastings Milledge

He played on the 1997 Manatee East Little League team that was national runnerup in the Little League World Series.

Milledge had a monster tournament at the Southeast Regional, hitting a pair of home runs in one game and a triple in another.

"Lastings is a dominant 12-year-old," Manatee East manager Mike Kennedy said at the time.

Milledge went on to star at Northside Christian and now is with the Washington Nationals.

Gary Sheffield

Growing up, Sheffield learned how to hit a fastball from his uncle, Dwight Gooden.

That helped Sheffield become the leader of a star-studded Belmont Heights Little League team that went to the World Series final in 1980 and lost to Taiwan.

The Hillsborough High grad is now an outfielder/designated hitter with the Detroit Tigers. At the start of this season, Sheffield ranked third among active players in runs (1,543) and was third in walks (1,386).

Jason Varitek

His 1984 Altamonte Springs Little League team won the Southeast Regional and lost in the Little League World Series title game to Seoul, South Korea.

Varitek went on to star at Georgia Tech and is a two-time all-star and Gold Glove winner for the Boston Red Sox.

He also is one of two players in baseball to have played in the championship game of the Little League World Series, the national championship game of the College World Series and MLB's World Series. (Ed Vosberg is the other.)

Gulfport's star-studded Little League resume 07/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 7:05am]
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