TAMPA — The attention has been a little strange for Gaither High baseball coach Frank Permuy. All he has done this season is what he has done the past 50 years — be a baseball man.
Permuy has been throwing out first pitches and accepting tributes and well-wishes from his colleagues. After 31 years as the Cowboys’ coach, Permuy, 70, is stepping down at the end of the season.
“I don’t always like the hoopla stuff,” he said. “Everybody’s said, ‘It’s your last year, take it all in,’ and I’ve tried to, but to me it’s all about the game.
“Yes, I’m honored and humbled, but the game should be put first.”
Permuy, who grew up playing baseball in Ybor City and attended Plant High, began his coaching career at Leto in 1971 before serving as head coach at his alma mater, the University of Tampa. He moved back into the high-school ranks in 1982 at Tampa Catholic, where he won a state title in his first season.
He then started the program at Gaither High when the school opened in 1984.
Like his childhood friend, teammate and competitor — longtime Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta — baseball was ingrained in him from an early age. Cuesta said Tampa’s baseball history had a big impact on him and Permuy dating back to Tampa-born Baseball Hall of Famer Al Lopez.
“Growing up in Ybor City and West Tampa, you had a community that loved baseball,” Cuesta said. “Everyone grew up listening to baseball on the radio, Al Lopez was a manager, and me and my dad would listen to Minnie Minoso, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox — we grew up loving baseball.”
Last summer, Permuy was inducted into the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the halls of fame for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association in 2009 and the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2010.
When asked about his enshrinement into the national hall last summer, he joked, “I guess it just means you’ve been around a long time.”
He was even more to the point on his retirement: “It’s time.”
His team is hoping to send him out the best way. Gaither is 16-4 this season and finished in a four-way tie in regular-season district play. Permuy is hoping to add a few more marks to the win column when his Cowboys play in next week’s Class 7A-District 8 tournament at Sickles.
The Cowboys have given the veteran coach a number of moments to relish this season. Randy Oliva had a walk-off grand slam — a first for the program — to lead the Cowboys past district opponent Wiregrass Ranch, 9-7 on April 4. In the next game, the Cowboys topped Alonso 3-2 by scoring all of their runs in the final inning.
Before the game against the Ravens, Alonso coach Landy Faedo, who spent nine seasons as an assistant at Gaither, presented Permuy with a gift before another ceremonial first pitch. Permuy said of the Alonso win: “I didn’t want to say anything, but that was my 600th win.”
To him, it was just one more win. The one before the next one.
Steinbrenner’s John Crumbley was among more than 20 current and former who attended an event hosted by King coach Jim Macaluso before last Thursday’s Lions-Cowboys game to recognize the coach.
Crumbley, a Leto grad and the longtime coach at Jesuit, started the program five years ago at Steinbrenner. He said Permuy was someone he could count on for friendship and advice when he was a young coach coming up through the ranks of the coaching fraternity.
“What Frank Permuy means to me is simple,” Crumbley said. “I tried to learn as much as I could from him on the field, he was always somebody I could talk to about any situation. He’s been a true inspiration from my younger years, and now that I’ve been lucky to be included with the older guys, that’s pretty special.”
Permuy’s legacy continues in his former assistants like Faedo, the only coach in Alonso’s history.
“He did a lot to calm me down,” Faedo said with a laugh. “I used to be a little overly passionate, and he taught me to take everything in stride and be even-keeled. Learning from watching what he did over nine years, I learned how to deal with players from him.”
There are still a few more times for Permuy to put on the Cowboys uniform, but perhaps what he’s the most proud of is what he’s leaving for the next Gaither coach.
“I think we’ve done a good job of establishing a great program here at Gaither,” Permuy said. “Whoever takes over, there isn’t that much to do, just go out there keep everything up and get ready for the next game.”
After all, the game should be put first.