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SCEILI FINDS SPARK REMAINS AT BALLPARK

BARRY SCEILI KNEW he was hooked when he started going to the ballpark again. He'd hang around like a dog at the butcher shop, taking it all in. He'd think of what he could do to help. He'd get the urge to put on a uniform and teach.

He'd given up managing American Legion baseball nearly six years ago. At the time it seemed like a good opportunity to exit, stage left. A good time to rest the nerves and do things normal people do during the summer: golf, barbecue, go to movies.But once he got back to the ballpark, an old addiction returned. He wanted back. Like the Eagles, he was plotting his comeback tour.

Sceili returned to Salt Lake this week for what can only be considered an encore to what was one of the great managing careers in Utah American Legion baseball history. For eight years he led the Taylorsville team, building it into the strongest program in the state.

Sceili didn't just compete in American Legion, he owned it. He won five state championships at Taylorsville and finished second three times. Like Sam Donaldson, Sceili is a very tenacious guy. You couldn't get him sidetracked and you couldn't change the subject.

But after winning the championship in 1989, Sceili called it quits. He was moving to St. George to take a new job and, as long as he was moving, he figured it was a good time to bow out. He would quietly fade into the backdrop of red cliffs of St. George and let someone else do the worrying.

Which lasted until last spring when he started watching Legion games again.

"I was done," said Sceili. "I thought that would be it for Legion baseball. But I started going to the park. I watched it and I felt like St. George baseball had the potential to try to get to a different level."

Faster than you could say Sparky Anderson, Sceili was back, this time as manager of the St. George team. The rest was a typical Sceili production: a 32-7 record, the best team in southern Utah and, naturally, a trip to the state playoffs.

Success aside, Sceili insists being back in the center of attention isn't what drew him back into managing. It was chance to teach again. He found himself still wanting to explain difference between a squeeze and a drag bunt and when to use them. When to take the pitch and when to swing away. How far to lead off first. And how to deal with winning and losing, in baseball and in life.

"If I was just at the golf course or at home, I didn't miss it. But if I was at the ballpark, I could tell the spark was still there," he said.

Fittingly, this week, St. George team was matched against three-time defending champ Taylorsville, both Wednesday in an early-round game and again Saturday in the state American Legion finals. Mike Littlewood, a former Sceili player and now Alta High's baseball coach, stopped by. Littlewood's younger brother, David, is Taylorsville's manager. All the familiar faces were back. There was a feeling of deja vu to the entire proceeding. With Sceili and Taylorsville and American Legion baseball all present, it was like Charlton Heston returning to the set of the Ten Commandments.

Sceili's return, though, was sidetracked by losses on Wednesday and again Saturday to his old team. "I thought we were gonna beat 'em," said Sceili after a 4-3 loss on Wednesday. "I really thought we'd beat 'em."

But that wasn't the case on either night. Quicker than you could say "reunion tour" the week was over and it was time to pack up the bats and throw them in the trunk. The monster he built up north was alive and well and still hungry.

If he's going to win another state championship, he'll probably have to do it by unraveling something he helped build in the first place.

Whether Sceili makes another dynasty in St. George is uncertain. Ask him how long he plans to stay managing and he'll sigh and look at his watch. This year. Next. Ten more minutes.

"I'll have to evaluate it," he says vaguely.

He may be managing the team for the next decade. Then again, he may quit tomorrow. If nothing else, he's learned in his long and prosperous baseball career that there are two things to remember: The game's never over until the last man is out, and don't go back to the ballpark unless you plan on staying.