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Gator backup QB Dickey's `first love' is on the diamond


After two years away from baseball, Florida backup quarterback Gavin Dickey took the field Friday on the Gator baseball team's first day of practice.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 12:15 a.m.

In the late afternoon, Florida's football practice fields sit in the shadow of McKethan Stadium. Separating the two fields is a narrow, concrete plaza.

Facts

Some two-sport athletes at UF

  • Aaron Walker, 1999-2002, Tight end was starting DH for 1999 baseball team

  • Major Parker, 1998-2001, Former basketball captain lettered on 2001 football team

  • Erron Kinney, 1996-99, Tight end played power forward for the 1997 basketball team

  • Herbert Perry, 1987-88, Quarterback started on baseball team and was a third-round pick by Cleveland Indians

  • Rodney Brewer, 1984-86, Quarterback started on baseball team

  • For the past year and a half, that tiny barrier has seemed like a canyon to Gavin Dickey.

    But Dickey finally crossed that threshold Friday, appearing on the Gators' baseball diamond and participating in his first baseball practice at Florida. Dickey's quest is to repair his relationship with the game he calls his "first love" and contribute to a team hungry to make it to Omaha in June for the College World Series.

    After almost two years away from baseball, Dickey is back.

    "I missed the game a lot," Dickey said. "I've played baseball a lot longer than I've played football. It's my first love. I'm just happy to be out here."

    Dickey missed on a chance to be drafted in Major League Baseball's Amateur Draft out of Tallahassee Lincoln High after he made it known to scouts he planned to play collegiate football.

    After redshirting two seasons ago, Dickey hoped to join the 2003 baseball team. Instead, the early departure of Rex Grossman to the NFL suddenly left the quarterback race wide open. Dickey put baseball on hold, dedicating all of his energy to winning the starting quarterback job in the spring.

    Still, Dickey kept one eye on what was going on at McKethan Stadium. He attended Gator baseball games wondering if, or when, he would get to step back in the batter's box.

    "He has missed baseball," said Joe Vallese, Dickey's high school baseball coach in Tallahassee. "He's always played two sports, and it had to be hard for him not to play two sports.

    "Then he didn't get a lot of time on the football field, and he's probably just wanting to get back out there on the field."

    Dickey spent most of this past football season behind Chris Leak and Ingle Martin on the depth chart at quarterback. This spring semester, he finds himself trying to break into the lineup once again, only in a different sport. So far, he's off to a good start.

    In the Gators' first scrimmage of the season Friday, Dickey played centerfield and hit leadoff for the Orange team. In his first at-bat, he ripped a single to left field off Mike Pete on the afternoon's second pitch.

    "As hard as it is to hit a baseball, I'm impressed how quickly it's coming for him," said senior outfielder Ben Harrison, who has been working out with Dickey the past few weeks. "I think he can be a very big contributor to this team. It's obvious the kid is an athlete."

    Changing locker rooms not only meant changing sports, but also teammates. The Gators say that after being a little quiet at first, Dickey has begun to open up.

    "He gets along with everybody," Harrison said. "He didn't come in too cocky, which is important. He came in, worked hard, and he's earning everyone's respect."

    Said junior second baseman Jonny Tucker: "He was kind of quiet the first week or so, just like anyone would be coming into a new environment. Now, he's in the swing of things and everyone is accepting him like any other guy."

    From a chair on the top step of Florida's dugout Friday, head baseball coach Pat McMahon kept a close eye on Dickey. There's no question everyone is impressed with the athleticism of the 5-foot-10 speedster, McMahon included. But getting back into top baseball form will take time, McMahon said.

    "There's areas of baseball where athleticism can help you," McMahon said. "But there's areas of the game where repetition is important."

    Dickey hit .367 as a senior in high school, where his assets as a fleet-footed centerfielder attracted the interest of professional scouts. But by his senior year, he had a choice to make.

    "When he was asked if he's going to play football or baseball, he said, `I don't know,' " Vallese said. "It was a big question for a lot of scouts. When he picked football, the scouts dropped off him a bit. He could have been drafted in the lower rounds."

    Dickey said his mother persuaded him to go to college rather than take a shot at professional baseball.

    "It was hard," Dickey said. "I could have gotten drafted out of high school and gone to the minor leagues, but my mom really wanted me to go to college, and I made a commitment to the Gators football team to play football. That was the commitment I chose."

    But there are more decisions on the horizon. Florida's spring football practice is set for the middle of baseball season, right when the Gators begin their SEC schedule. Dickey said he will have to see how things play out before deciding on baseball or spring practice.

    "Right now I'm not sure," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to be at some (football) practices. But we'll see how that works out when we get closer to the dates."

    For now, he's happy swinging the bat.

    You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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