We have all heard of Whoville I presume! You know that wonderful creation of the remarkable Theodore Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.
Well “Whoville” took on a different flavor these past few months in a lovely little town on Florida’s gulf coast. The town is Venice which today claims home to the reigning 6A Baseball High School State Champions!
During the summer and fall of 2014 and into the winter of 2015, all of us involved in the Venice High Baseball Program were continually asked about the upcoming season. After all, we were coming off of a stretch of three straight visits to the State Final Four and back to back championship seasons of 2012 and 2013! We heard things like, “Boy what a great run you guys had.” Or “A little bit of a building year coming up?” It seemed clear to those not in the know, that the Venice High School Baseball program was facing a paradigm shift for the 2015 season. And in fairness to all those folks, their questions appeared natural. After all, the talent which left Venice High School following the 2014 season are playing on college diamonds throughout the state of Florida from JUCOs to the 5th ranked University of Florida, to D-1 schools throughout the southeast and into the organization of the Boston Red Sox! They are not only playing, they are making impactful, significant contributions to their new teams!
Therefore those not in the know lowered their expectations for the 2015 season. What those “not in the know” didn’t know was that the 2015 season began in the weight room in the summer of 2014, literally days after the 2014 season ended. What those not in the know didn’t know was that it was during that time that the slogan for 2015 was born; the slogan which you will find on the Venice High School Baseball web site which says simply “when names change and expectations don’t….results won’t.” What those not in the know, didn’t know was that their continued question about who was going to replace this guy and who was going to replace that guy, was creating energy and started a fire. A fire that began as a slow burn, begin to spread and would build to raging inferno engulfing the state of Florida, claiming its last victim last Saturday night in Jet Blue Park!
What those not in the know didn’t know was their questions, their lowered expectations, their seeming acceptance of a lowered paradigm gave birth to Whoville, a small little baseball community of 56 inhabitants which prepared to take on the baseball world of Florida!
As the season unfolded and wins began to pile up, more and more people began to show up in our press box and more and more questions began to be asked. The main one being, “What the devil is Whoville?” Apparently these media types never read Dr. Seuss! I would often simply say, “you’re looking at it’”
On Sunday, as I sat around the house talking with friends and family up north, folks who had peeked in on Whoville throughout the year and got caught up in it. I began to absorb a bit of “what had just happened.” And I began to think….”What the devil is Whoville?
A marine, a new kid and two old guys who share a passion for the game and the young men they mentor.
Guys named Dwayne, and Josh and Mike and Tim and Bryon and Rob and Rich; Indians all, who take Tuesday night rides to Miami or Hillsboro County or some God forsaken place in the middle of the state to gather a scouting report which may never be needed!
Whoville is a group of young men who had the toughest assignment in all of baseball and that is to prepare for something every day which may not happen and most often doesn’t. When called upon, they will be asked to perform a task that is usually in a key situation and in fact could often be when the game is on the line. These players are charged with the primary responsibility of being good teammates and as these young men battled each other for time on the field, and struggled through some difficult times, learning some of life’s toughest lessons, through it all they remained the best teammates they could be!
Whoville is 2015 state champions Ryan Gumbs, Ryan Dinka, Josh Evans, Jacob Louke, Marcus Tarrantino, Austin Collins, Jacob Zito and Evan Carvalho.
Carvalho, Gumbs, Collins, Tarrentino, Louke, Dinka and Kragel.
Whoville is three guys who were not on the post season roster at all yet never stopped working whether in the bull pens, or in inter squads, performing the thankless tasks that those not in the know do not see but which are essential to the success of any baseball team. They hid in the bathroom of the bullpen at Jet Blue during the weekend’s first lightning delay simply because they were not going to take the risk of not being allowed back on the field and they wanted to be there.
Whoville is 2015 state champions Eric Brown, Tyler Dumont, Matt Blow.
Blow and Evans.
Jakob “Baked” Zito
Whoville is an exuberant young man who exudes a joy of life which is simply infectious; willing to do whatever was needed of him, he earned the respect of fellow Whoville residents by always preparing! And he hit the bomb of the year at our home field.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion Riley Buckmaster.
Whoville is a guy who made the transition from the infield to the outfield without batting an eye and with the words, “whatever you need from me coach.” And he made that transition as smooth as silk making what some have called the greatest catch a Venice outfielder has ever made and he was a consistent contributor with his bat!
Whoville is your Indian in left field……2015 State Champion Tyler Gardner
Whoville is a leader both on and off the diamond! A young man who holds the distinction of lettering in three varsity sports! A player whose contributions on the field can be measured with great defense, key hits, unselfish play and whose contributions off the field are immeasurable.
Whoville is your Indian in centerfield……2015 state champion co-captain, Langston Provitt!
Langston goes and gets in in the first inning!
Whoville is a young man whose outfield play last year brought him to the varsity team during the playoff run and which continued to blossom this year. He was on fire during championship weekend and on Friday night when our season hung in the balance and a fly ball was hit to right field, I immediately said to myself, that’s a good thing and we all saw why!!!! Yet another runner thrown out at the plate!
Whoville is your Indian in right field…….2015 state champion Brent Killam!
Whoville is a man who gives countless hours to this program, who is a well of knowledge about playing the outfield, running the bases, bunting the baseball and life. A bright light to guide your boys!
Whoville is a freshman who arrived on the scene with the savvy and confidence that belied his tender age; which was exhibited by a play in the state semi-final game that had those in the know say simply, did you see that?
Whoville is your Indian at third base…..2015 State Champion Mitch Donofrio!
Whoville is sophomore arrival who began to harness the energy of a wild mustang coming more and more under control as the year progressed; who elevated his play at the plate and on the field to championship level during championship weekend!
Whoville is your Indian at shortstop……2015 State Champion Shane Shifflett.
Whoville is a junior who played solid defense all year long and barreled up baseballs the entire season, and has now placed himself in the discussion as the best pure hitter to ever wear an Indian uniform.
Whoville is your Indian at second base……2015 State Champion Scotty Dubrule
Scotty Dubrule scoring
Whoville is a junior who went from one corner of the diamond to the other and after struggling a bit at first became a very good defensive player who made some key plays at crucial times. The secret, he never stopped working!
Whoville is your Indian at first base……2015 State Champion Trevor Holloway!
Whoville is a crusty old Pollock who rides with a tight bit that is only matched by the depth of his generosity, the size of his heart and his absolute refusal to ever, ever give up on anybody!
Whoville is a saucy Latino who is anything but typical and whose knowledge of hitting a baseball is exceeded by his love of the game and his desire to teach young men not only how to hit but how to become men.
Whoville is a sophomore lefty who arrived on the scene for the Sarasota Classic and never left. A kid with ice water in his veins he was given the daunting task of taking the ball on the biggest stage in the year’s biggest game and he delivered! Leaving no doubt that he belonged.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion Caleb Williams.
Caleb Williams winning pitcher!
Whoville is a senior lefty who rode a knuckleball to 5 big wins. When he struggled a bit, as all knuckleballers will…..He did not get the ball as much as he wanted because he is a competitor. The value of his contribution was recognized when it was he who was chosen to finish this championship season in the middle of the diamond.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion Kade Hunkapillar!
Grubbsy and Hunk, THE MOMENT
Whoville is a Papa Smurf who would find the positive aspects of a nuclear attack and pours that positive energy into those in his charge every minute of every day!
Whoville is a junior catcher who caught virtually every inning of every game. A young man who never ever gave in he topped an outstanding season with championship play on championship day; gunning out a runner to drive a stake through the heart of Bartram Trail and kissing the Green Monster for a double.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion Jake Grubbs!
Catcher Jake Grubbs
Whoville is a senior who simply became the most dominant pitcher in the history of Venice High School baseball winning more games than any other Venice pitcher in history and doing it with pure dominance. When he got the ball, everybody knew an Indian win was but a couple of hours away.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion co-captain Cole Kragel.
Cole Kragel set a Venice High record with 13 wins.
Whoville is another senior… A senior who was literally running all over the diamond which was epitomized in two instances…..After hitting a huge home run in the Estero regional game he crossed home and sprinted to the bullpen and after executing a perfect safety squeeze giving us the lead in the championship game, he sprinted to the bullpen to get ready to pitch. He played more positions this year than anybody.
Whoville is 2015 State Champion Colin Cristello.
Whoville is Darth Vader dressed in green and white who oozes with a force that often expects the sky to fall yet whose heart possesses a love of cultivating the talents of young athletes as players and men that is hard pressed to be matched anywhere!
Whoville is a senior manager who reminds us on a daily basis how blessed we are to be here, how life is meant to be lived in the moment! Who teaches us the meaning of loyalty for it is he who is the greatest Indian fan of all.
Whoville is the best baseball manager in the history of the game… 2015 State Champion Clint Faulkner!
Clint (green shirt) joins the dog pile to celebrate Venice’s State Championship!
And last and certainly not least…..Whoville is a man who understands more than any other that baseball is the greatest metaphor for life known to man. Whose understanding shapes, molds and prepares young men for the life which awaits them. He exudes a quiet strength which creates a confidence that is unconquerable and quite simply he makes those of us who have the privilege to be in his sphere of influence better men. He is the rock, the foundation upon which all this has been built and it is an honor to introduce to you…..
The Mayor of Whoville……
Co-captains Cole Kragel (L) and Langston Provitt pose in front of the team with the 6A State Championship trophy, Coach and Mayor of Whoville Craig Faulkner at Jet Blue Field in Ft. Myers FL on Saturday May 16th.
And so it is on this day in Venice High School Baseball history. Championship Day!