BIG SCHOOL BASEBALL PREVIEW
Nova High School baseball is a Titan on their diamond
With a winning tradition and a charming ballpark, Nova has loaded up this season for another run at a state championship.
BY MIKE PHILLIPS
Tim McGraw's music mingles with the sound of baseballs being sprayed all over the field.
It's a sun-splashed day at ''The House That Pat Built,'' where the only thing brighter than all that Nova Green paint that seems to be everywhere is the optimism of the kids themselves.
This is Nova Baseball, and life is a little different here. They play country western music during batting practice at the prettiest high school baseball park in Florida. A few years ago, Baseball America ranked the cozy, charming home of the Titans as one of the top 10 in the nation.
But it's not just the park and its charm, or the fact that the color green isn't just green, but it's Nova Green -- just like it's Tar Heel Blue in North Carolina. It's that everything here looks and feels and tastes like baseball.
You walk into this place, and you just know they are going to hit the cut-off man with every throw; you know they are going to put down the bunt, and you just sense that the kids who play here know to go to right field with two strikes or get the ball deep in the air with a runner at third and less than two outs.
All for the same reason, because the man who built this place built this program, where they have been winning for decades and where they having been playing country western music during BP since before these kids were born.
''Forever,'' Pat McQuaid said when asked how long the country music accompanied batting practice.
It's Pat McQuaid Field, and his fingerprints are everywhere, from the brick wall behind home plate that looks like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, to the large palms that ring the outfield wall, to the indoor batting cages (yes, indoor batting cages), to the spacious locker rooms, to the elevated seating and press box.
McQUAID BUILT IT ALL
This little piece of paradise was a cow pasture 35 years ago when McQuaid, who played and graduated from Nova, starting building his ballpark and his program.
''There's only one word for him,'' senior second baseman Kerry Doane said. ``He's God. He does everything for the program, and he does everything for us.''
Michael Broad, a talented shortstop who already has signed with the University of Miami, echoed Doane's words.
''He gets you ready for the next level,'' said Broad, who is sure to be drafted in June's major-league draft.
``He is all baseball. You can drive by here late at night, and he's here alone working on the field.''
McQuaid knows how to drive a team.
He's not old-school -- he's one-room schoolhouse old-school.
You loaf going to first base in practice, and it's pushups -- right now.
One minute late, and it's laps afterwards -- for stars and bench-warmers.
''He never really smiles,'' said third baseman Brent Zimmerman, who has signed with Virginia Tech. ``The best you get from him is that smirk. You see that smirk, and you know he's happy.
``If he isn't yelling at you, something is wrong. He tells us every year we are the worst team he's had in 25 years.''
They are not.
Nova has a chance to win it all every year, and this season is no different.
McQuaid has a dream infield, and those four players -- Zimmerman, Broad, Doane and first baseman Patrick Morris -- all are seniors with college scholarships. Broad will pitch in relief, and the other three will start.
''We know we will have to be the example for the younger players, to help push them and make them better,'' Morris said.
But everyone expects to win.
''This is our year,'' Zimmerman said. ``We've been close the last three years.''
Said Doane: ``Close enough to taste it on the tip of our tongue. We want to win every game and win the state title.''
Nova won titles in 2004 and '05 and had a team ranked No. 1 in the nation in '06 before getting upset.
''You've got to have players step up at the end of the season,'' McQuaid said, with a calm in his voice that explains that he has been there so many times before.
``It will depend how healthy our pitching is at the end.
''We've got experience in the infield, but none in the outfield,'' he said. ``We'll see how they come along.''
They have been coming along well for 35 years now at Nova, and this year's team is expected to be just like the coach who brought them here -- classy, disciplined, talented and competitive to the end.
Who knows? This season could end with a state title -- and a big smirk from McQuaid.
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