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McGriff joins Sheffield in Pasco baseball project

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WESLEY CHAPEL — They grew up a few miles apart, starring for rival high schools in an era when Tampa, flush with Major League talent, felt like a direct pipeline to the Show.

Now retired slugger Fred McGriff is in negotiations to join his former teammate Gary Sheffield as part owner of Pasco Sports, the company planning a massive $34 million baseball complex in Wesley Chapel.

“He’ll be more involved in the day to day than Gary would be,” Pasco Sports founder James Talton said. “He’s a consultant for the Toronto Blue Jays now, and he really enjoys it.”

In January, Pasco County commissioners agreed to a 45-year contract with Talton to build and operate the complex in Wiregrass Ranch, just north of Tampa. Talton must raise $23 million by mid-July before Pasco will release the $11 million it pledged.

Meantime, Talton made a splash by announcing Sheffield’s involvement last month and hinting that other stars would be signing on to the project, which will feature 19 fields, a stadium, a player development center and on-site dormitories for traveling teams.

McGriff, a power-hitting first baseman, played 19 years in the majors, including two stints with his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1998-2001, 2004). He retired with 493 home runs.

“The one thing he’s most excited about his marketing him as a brand,” Talton said. “He’s going to be offering specialized training — fantasy camps and hitting academies, where people can get one-on-one instruction from him.”

A five-time All-Star, McGriff was a seasonal home run leader in both the American and National leagues.

He and Sheffield starred for the San Diego Padres in 1992 when they combined to hit 64 home runs. They remain the only two major-league players to hit 30 or more home runs for five different teams. Both players have World Series rings — McGriff with the 1995 Atlanta Braves, Sheffield two years later while playing with the Florida Marlins.

Talton said Florida Nations Baseball President Chuck White has also joined the project. He brings expertise in running large-scale amateur baseball and softball tournaments, camps and showcases where college and professional scouts can see a huge assembly of talent.

“What he represents — it’s a big deal,” Talton said.

And girls won’t be left out.

“Our fields are designed to be flexible, so for softball all we have to do is move the bases in to 60 feet and take out the mound,” Talton said.

The fences could be moved and fields reconfigured to accommodate soccer, football and lacrosse, as well, he said.

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