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Stentz, Valdez tourney-bound

For this week, at least, there's not much pressure on Brent Stentz.

The 1993 Hernando High graduate will be pitching to some of the top baseball talent in the country during the ESPN-televised National Amateur All-Star Baseball Tournament, but there will be no anxiety about big-league scouts or college coaches watching.

That's because Stentz has been drafted by the pros, knows what school he's going to, and has nothing more to concern himself with than having fun.

"I don't have to worry about impressing anybody, because they can't talk to me anyway," said Stentz, the 57th-round choice of the San Diego Padres in Major League Baseball's recent amateur draft. "It takes a lot off the chest. I think I'll throw better, being loose like that."

Stentz, a right-hander, plans to continue his pitching career on scholarship at Pasco-Hernando Community College next season.

But today through Sunday, he and fellow Hernando High product Tom Valdez will represent Hernando County and the state of Florida on the Dixie League entry in a five-team national tournament.

The tourney, being held at 6,000-seat C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek, Mich., features entries representing five of the country's youth baseball organizations: Dixie, American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC), Babe Ruth, National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) and Pony Baseball.

The 20-member Dixie team opens play in the round-robin tourney at 5:30 tonight against Babe Ruth, plays a doubleheader Friday (11:30 a.m. vs. AABC and 8 p.m. vs. Pony) and meets NABF at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Title-game play, featuring the top-ranked teams based on round-robin records, starts at 2 p.m. Sunday. The championship game will be taped and televised at 1 p.m. EDT Tuesday by ESPN.

PHCC signee Valdez, a catcher, and Stentz were named to the team after standout performances when the Hernando Youth League's Brooksville-based team finished second to Highlands County in the Dixie Majors (ages 15-18) state tournament last year.

Landon Hessler, another star from that team and Hernando High's district champion team, was named to Dixie's national team roster. But Hessler, a Houston Astros draftee, is not playing on a Dixie League team this season and is not playing in the national tourney.

Stentz said he learned of his selection to the squad in early April from Hernando High athletic director Ernie Chatman, who coached Dixie players from Brooksville last year.

"There's going to be some talent there," said Chatman, who recently resigned as Hernando High's baseball coach.

"It'll be serious, but I'll also have fun," Stentz said. "Everybody's going to be good up there. These are players from all over the nation, so it should be great competition."

Among the more than 20 drafted players participating is outfielder Torii Hunter, the unsigned first-round selection (20th overall) of the Minnesota Twins. Hunter, from Pine Bluff (Ark.) High, plays for Babe Ruth.

Stentz and Valdez were to fly to Michigan on Monday and return home from their expenses-paid trip Sunday night. Tours, a picnic and a parade were planned to keep the players busy between practice sessions.

The inaugural tourney is organized by Amateur All-Star Baseball, Inc. (AABI), the Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce, and the Battle Creek Sports Association. At least seven national sponsors are funding the event, which was conceived by AABI president Ron Berryman.

"He (Berryman) got the idea two or three years ago," AABI events coordinator Paul Mann said, "and he talked to the presidents of the youth baseball organizations and got them to come together.

"They're still their own individual organizations, and they still compete with each other to get players to be in their organizations, but we're kind of the umbrella pulling them all together."

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