TAMPA – After 31 years of win after win, from building a baseball team from scratch to watching it become a perennial power in the Tampa Bay area, Frank Permuy thought he had seen it all.
For more than three decades, he’s seen all the wins, while still fretting over some of the losses – especially those that have denied his Gaither High School Cowboys a state championship — though they came so close at times.
It’s been a great ride for Permuy, one of the most personable people in local sports. He’s a fixture on the Gaither campus, on the baseball field during baseball season, and sitting in the press box during the off season.
But on April 4, he saw something he’d never seen in all his years as a head baseball coach. With the Cowboys trailing by three and down to their last out in a must-win game against Wiregrass Ranch, Gaither and Permuy needed a miracle. A loss would drop them to fourth in the district. A win would create a four-way tie at the top.
With two out, two strikes, and the bases loaded, Permuy saw a walk-off grand slam for the first time in his long high school career. Randy Oliva pulled off the feat with a shot that had plenty to spare even after it cleared the left field fence.
“I thought I had seen it all, but a walk-off grand slam in a game like this?” Permuy asked. “That was the first time. We were down, but this team never gives up even down three runs with one strike left. The whole year we’ve been looking for something like this. What a game. I will never forget this.”
With 12 seniors and a nice mix of lower classmen, the Cowboys want one last chance to send the soon-to-retire Permuy into the sunset with a state title under his belt. The closest he’s come was in 2005 when Gaither lost the state title game.
Oliva, who homered twice and had six RBI in the win over Wiregrass Ranch, said the team has been playing this season for Permuy.
“That was the biggest hit of my career,” Oliva said. “Going into the season we knew we wanted to have a big one for Coach Permuy. He’s been a great coach and he knows how to teach us. This year, we are ready to make a run at states.”
Permuy announced his retirement last spring. He’s been involved with local baseball for almost his entire adult life, starting as the head coach at Leto in 1972. He won a state championship at Tampa Catholic in 1982, but wanted the challenge of building a program at a new school.
He missed a few games in 2013 to recover from gall bladder surgery, but he’s been back at the helm for every game this year. At 70, he said it’s time to turn the program over to someone else.
He’s had so many big games that he can’t name his most memorable, but the Wiregrass Ranch win is right near the top.
“I can’t even think of the most memorable, there have been so many,” Permuy said. “This was just so great for the seniors.”
The Gaither bats may have to come through a little more if the Cowboys want a deep run through the playoffs. Oliva leads the team with four homers and Tyler Tyson is batting .418 while freshman Jose Cardenas is hitting .385.
It’s the pitching that has the Cowboys in contention. Tyson and Blake Hodgens are a combined 7-1, and the team ERA coming out of the Wiregrass Ranch game was 1.85
“We are a team with a good mix of experience and younger players,” Permuy said. “We are getting better players every year and the development programs around here are going to make sure the program is in good hands when I am gone.”
It isn’t likely that Permuy will ever really be gone from the Gaither program; he has had too much of an impact. And he hopes he still hasn’t seen everything. He’d like to see a state championship.