As they sat in the dugout after their 3-2 loss to the Dominican Republic in their final game of the 1991 Little League World Series, the players from Dunedin National tugged on their caps.
Although they finished sixth in the world, the players were disappointed. They needed to find solace. Coach John Frazer sat with them and reiterated the speech he gave during the Southern Regional, when his team was the toast of Dunedin.
"I've been around Little League for a number of years," Frazer said, "and whatever happens from now, I know that you guys are the best."
Dunedin National was the last team from the Tampa Bay area to reach the Little League World Series, which started play Monday in Williamsport, Pa. Five years have passed, and the 14 All-Stars are growing up. They drive cars instead of pedaling bikes. The caps they wear belong to Dunedin High, or Clearwater Central Catholic. One has moved on to college, some have moved to other sports and others have just moved.
There is no reunion to commemorate the season. If they wanted to stage one, though, it wouldn't be too hard. Most are still around.
Six players _ D DeSantis, Toby Evans, Jay Frazer, Jeremy Kurella, Brad Malone and Peter Nystrom _ helped the Dunedin High baseball team come within one game of the state tournament, a position the Falcons were in for the first time since '82. Three others _ Brady Williams, Chris Hart and Steve Patterson _ were part of the Clearwater Central Catholic baseball team that was ranked first in the Class 3A state poll for most of last season. Steve White was a member of East Lake's tennis team that won a state title two years ago. Nick Tsotsos is on the golf team at Tarpon Springs.
"It was kind of a shame to lose, but I don't know, I've been really blessed," Nystrom said. "I've always been on good teams and worked hard to achieve my goals. Going to Williamsport was like a steppingstone for me to the sky, I guess."
But mention their names together, and people won't remember their individual accomplishments, rather what they did in '91.
When Kurella coached Little Leaguers at a baseball camp this summer, he was introduced as a member of the Dunedin National team of '91. When DeSantis and Nystrom went to the Southern Regional three years ago, the Louisiana coach asked them to speak to his players on what it was like to go to Williamsport.
"People still bring it up every once in a while," said Kurella, who was the starting pitcher against the Dominican Republic. "Everyone wants to relate us back to that time. Sometimes I just want to put it past me, especially since this is my senior year. Going to Williamsport is not going to help you when a college coach is looking at you."
While it is a time they want to put behind them, even they find it is hard to forget.
As he watched the U.S. baseball team compete in the Olympics, DeSantis often drifted away to his opportunity on a world stage.
"I saw these teams the U.S. was playing and it brought back some memories," DeSantis said. "I played against these guys. I played Wiffle ball against the Taiwanese. I played pingpong with the Chinese players and ate Chinese food."
DeSantis kept the trophies, and his Southern Regional plaque still hangs in his room. It's a reminder to the days when the only thing that mattered was baseball.
During his stay in the global village at Williamsport, DeSantis would sneak out with Nystrom and head to the stadium to hit balls.
In extracurricular Wiffle ball against Taiwan, a possible World Series opponent, DeSantis' team decided that only Taiwan's pitcher could pitch _ in hope that he might throw his arm out.
"We were 12," DeSantis said. "We didn't worry about girlfriends and didn't have to worry about school because we were playing in the summer. We didn't even think about the pressure of being in the World Series and had a blast. We were all a lot tighter then we are now.
"We don't hear much about it anymore. For a while people would talk about it, but we're trying to put it behind us. We don't want to be remembered just for that. Most of us have a year of high school left and we want to have a good senior season and hopefully win a state title."