Off The Bench: Coaches still have a role to play

Todd Baxter and Troy Withstandley knew they'd be working at the Little League state championship this weekend.

They just didn't know if their roles would be as coaches or if their rolls would be filled with hamburgers and hot dogs.

It will be the latter.

Any unsatisfied customers at the San Carlos Little League concession stand this weekend can pin the blame on Braden River, Venice National and Fort Myers American. Those teams prevented San Carlos — which was coached by Baxter and Withstandley — from advancing to the state tournament.

"We'll be raking the fields or flipping the burgers," said Withstandley, after his team was knocked out in last weekend's Section 6 tournament.

San Carlos found out earlier this year that their league would be hosting the eight sectional winners.

"Since then, we've been going full steam," said Baxter, the league's president. "I've got 20 board members who have stepped it up all year long."

Including Baxter's wife, Carrie, the league's information director.

"She's the backbone," said Baxter.

Tournament participants will be treated to a banquet Thursday night at Three Oaks Middle School, right across the street from where the action starts on Friday with games beginning at 10 a.m. and noon. Baxter estimates about 400 people will attend the banquet, which will feature a live band and prizes.

Both Baxter and Withstandley will take time off from their daytime jobs to focus on the tournament, making sure everything runs smoothly.

"The fields look good," said Baxter. "The county has been working with us hand-in-hand and they've done a great job. They're going to protect them because they know it's a big deal for them, too. They take a lot of pride in the fields. I'd put our fields up against anybody's."

For one of the eight teams, Three Oaks Community Park will be a field of dreams because the winner of Monday's championship game inches ever so close to Williamsport.

One final hurdle — the South Region in St. Petersburg — will await Florida's champion.

With his duties done as a coach, cook and president, Baxter plans to enjoy the regional action as a fan.

"I'll go," he said. "We had a blast last year watching Maitland play Georgia. It was a great experience. The stands were electric. It was so much fun."

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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