When Brian Hunter took his position at third base for Bloomingdale this past season, he saw baseball played in front of trees, grass and wildlife. But all that changed when the Bulls went on an eight-game winning streak at season's end to advance into the Class 4A state semifinals at Boardwalk and Baseball.
Suddenly, when Hunter looked toward home he saw thousands of seats, most of filled with people.
"I had never played in surroundings like that before," said Hunter, who led Bloomingdale with a .383 batting average and was a St. Petersburg Times all-county selection. Hunter is currently hitting .351 for Bloomingdale Post 138.
"The one thing I remember the most is all the people in the stands. The crowd support at that level was great. Playing in front of all those people is something that really sticks with you."
Another thing that has stuck with Bloomingdale is the way it was eliminated from the state playoffs. After playing the role of underdog throughout most of the tournament _ the Bulls were 8-11 heading into the state playoffs _ Bloomingdale eventually lost to Miami Southridge, a team they were supposed to beat.
But the momentum that carried Bloomingdale to district, regional and sectional titles during the high school season has carried over to its American Legion schedule.
Bloomingdale Post 138 (12-1) is undefeated in District 13 play (5-0), and is currently in second place in the district standings.
"I think there's a lot of carry over from the high school season to the Legion season," said pitcher Jason Leek (2-0). "We all thought we should have won that Miami Southridge game, and I think we were a little complacent. Maybe we took them a little for granted. But now all we're thinking about is getting back to the state tournament again."
Post 138 is made up essentially of the same players from the Bloomingdale high school team, with a few key additions. Plant City High School has supplemented Post 138's roster with catcher Billy Sapp, pitchers Troy Walker and Jeff Dixon, and shortstop Josh Miller.
Standout players back from the Bloomingdale high school team include K.C. Crothers and Chad Sheffer, currently second and third in hitting, respectively, pitcher Jimmy Allen, David Hernandez, Leek and Hunter.
"Last year was a rebuilding season for our legion team," Bloomingdale coach Tim Ruth said. "Add to that we had a couple of key injuries (Miller and Hunter) further hampered our season.
"But I think Bloomingdale caught a lot of people by surprise during the high school season. And, more importantly, I think the experience of playing in a state semifinal will pay off when it comes time for the Area Tournament and State Tournament in Legion this summer."
Although all talk from Post 138 is how much the high school state tournament will help the team during the American Legion season, that theory could backfire.
Because the Bulls were playing in the state semifinals, Post 138 postponed three games during the first week of the Legion season, forcing the team to play seven critical District 13 games over a five-day span next week.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," Ruth said. "It's the same kind of situation we'll be in at the end of the year (during the American Legion district, area and state tournaments). It will be a real good tune-up for the post season, and a good test to see exactly what kind of team we have."
Memorial Tourney Winners: North Tampa Post 334, an American Legion team made up of mostly King High School players, defeated Sarasota Post 30 1-0 for the Memorial Tournament championship Wednesday night. The game was originally rained out May 27.
Eddie Rocha (2-0) picked up the win by scattering six hits over nine innings and striking out six.