It hasn't been easy to set up, but Panama City's American Legion baseball team is going to play defending National Champion Mayo Post No.226 at 5 p.m. today at Arundel High in Gambrills.
Panama City, annually one of the top legion teams in the sunshine state of Florida, is in the area playing in a tournament in West Virginia and desperately wanted to play coach Bernie Walter's club. Seems like everybody wants a piece of Mayo Post these days -- the price you pay for being the national champion.
"There is no question that's why they want to play us," said Walter, who won't be there today to run his team.
Today is the only day the two clubs could get together, but Walter has a prior commitmentand his team already is scheduled to play at Severna Park in the local Legion league at 8:30 p.m., so the Mayo coach had to adjust.
"My assistant coaches had a problem making a 5 p.m. game, so in order to do it we have come up with a substitute head coach," said Walter, who will be attending a retirement party for close friend and longtimecounty Coordinator of Physical Education for High Schools Jean Boyd.
"I feel confident we have an excellent designated coach for the game; that's if he can stay in the game (not get tossed by the men in blue). I don't want to say who it is, because it might hurt attendance."
Walter was half-joking, but wouldn't say who the mystery coachis.
Panama City, located just outside Clearwater, Fla., is coached by Bob Thayer, who is from Prince George's County. This game will mark a sort of family reunion for him. Thayer was a standout pitcher and hitter at Ballou High in the D.C. area about 25 years ago and played his senior year at LaPlata High in Charles County.
After his baseball-playing days, Thayer became one of the nation's top windmillers in fast-pitch softball.
"Bob was a tremendous athlete and it's no surprise that he has done a tremendous job coaching Panama City," said Bill McCaffrey, a former Prince George's delegate who now lives in Pasadena.
Beating Mayo would be a big feather in Panama City's cap, just as it has been thus far this season for several local teams.Mayo has been struggling, but did defeat Ferndale Post Saturday, 6-1, behind Arundel High All-County pitcher Jeff Beard, and improve its record to 12-7.
"Everybody gets pumped up for us," Walter said. "We've been in every game, and our pitching and defense have been solid. Our hitting, or lack of, has been our problem. And believe me, thisis a pretty good league we play in. The biggest difference in this year's team and our national championship team is that this team is not scoring runs."
The reason Mayo is not scoring runs is that too many of their hitters are going for the cheap seats. Seems a lot of the guys are trying to hit the ball out of the park, a plague that often affects amateur baseball clubs and even major league teams.
"We've got some really good hitters, some who hit .350 in high school, but who are trying to hit the ball out of the ball park. Most of the hits they are getting now are home runs, which tells you what we've been doing," said Walter. "We've had an awful lot of fly-ball outs, and you don't put pressure on the other teams by hitting fly balls and striking out. As soon as we get the hitting straightened out, this should be a pretty good ball club."
Walter has six returnees from lastyear's club: pitchers Jerry Mills, Doug Stockman and Beard; catchersChris Dinoto and John Bussey (who also plays the infield) and All-County shortstop Scotty Young of Arundel.
The Mayo team has quite a cross to bear in defending its National Legion crown. And several players, including Beard and Young, played on this year's Arundel High State 4A championship team.
Walter is 100 percent right when he says "everybody is pumped for us." I know I've been getting my share of phone calls on my 24-hour Sportsline (647-2499) from clubs that have beaten Mayo thus far this season.
Those callers have boasted justifiably about their teams' defeating the defending national champs, but the real test comes a few weeks from now. It's the Bernie Walter trademark to have his teams play their best at the end, when championships are being settled.
A prime example was this spring, when Arundel won it all in Class 4A with a club that most thought would finish second to Old Mill. Orioles' scouting supervisor Jim Gilbert saw Arundel early in the spring and didn't think much of the Wildcats.
"I thought it was one of Bernie's worst teams and didn't expect them to do what they did and win the state championship," Gilbert said. "Thatmight have been Bernie's best coaching job. I just think he did a helluva job with them from the beginning to the end."
The same thingcould happen in the local legion league, but it won't be easy. The league appears pretty balanced.
* At last check with former Old Mill standout and 1985 Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year DennisWiseman, things haven't been going the way the right-hander had hoped.