PALM HARBOR — In 1991, John Petika drove his 5-year-old son John Jr. to sign up for T-ball at Palm Harbor Little League.
That innocent trip spawned an illustrious, albeit unintended, 17-year Little League coaching career.
"I went down there and signed (John Jr.) up, and they said, 'Great, you're the coach,' " Petika said matter-of-factly. "They needed coaches. That's how I started."
When the Palm Harbor senior all-star team (ages 15-16) takes the field Saturday night against the all-star team from Clearwater, it will mark the final stages of Petika's last season as a volunteer Little League coach.
It's a career marked by considerably more wins than losses.
In 2000, Petika coached the Palm Harbor junior team (ages 13-14) to a third-place world finish, losing 1-0 to Canada in the semifinals. "I still remember that game," Petika laments. "We should have won."
A year later, he coached the Palm Harbor senior team to the world championship, beating a team from Venezuela in the final. That squad featured professionals Tyler Clippard, who plays for Triple-A Columbus in the Washington Nationals farm system, and Ryan Harvey, the sixth overall pick in the 2003 MLB draft.
John Jr., now 22, was also on that championship roster.
"It was one of the greatest experiences I've had in my baseball career," he said. "I played in high school (Clearwater Central Catholic) and four years of college (Florida International), and that summer was my favorite time playing baseball. It was a special group."
Those experiences are what kept Petika coaching, first John Jr. for 13 years, then daughter Dee — now 19 — in Little League softball and finally James, a 16-year-old junior-to-be at CCC playing on his father's last team.
"There are probably 2 million people across the country every night involved with Little League, but there's always a focus on the knuckleheads or when something goes wrong," Petika said. "All these good people and you hear about the bad guy. That really bugs me. … I think it's been great. I'm a big believer in team sports."
With no more kids in Little League, Petika, who also coaches the junior varsity baseball team at CCC, decided to step aside.
"I'll still help out with certain things if they ask me," he said. "But I think it's time to let the other fathers get involved."