Florida natives enjoying trip home

Florida natives enjoying trip home

Florida natives enjoying trip home
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Braves have five players on the roster who grew up in Florida, and all of them planned to have family and friends visit St. Petersburg while the Braves were in town.

Chipper Jones, who was born in Deland and was the 1990 Florida High School Player of the Year at Bolles High School in Jacksonville, still planned to have a busload of "about 100 people" come to the game on Saturday despite suffering a left calf bruise in Friday night's 5-3 win.

"Yeah, they'll still be here," said Jones, who is on the board of directors of the athletic department at Stetson University.

Matt Diaz, who was drafted in 1999 by Tampa Bay when the team was known as the Devil Rays, graduated from Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland and still lives in the central Florida town with his wife, Leslee, and their two sons.

Diaz said he will have 18 tickets available for family members and friends on Saturday and Sunday. His father, Ed, and his wife's brother, Drew Bennett, are both pastors and "may be late because they have to do a little of God's work [on Sunday] at church."

Diaz expects to have one of his three brothers attend the games. Zach, who is the oldest, lives in Lakeland and will make the trip.

Ben is in a seminary in Dallas and the youngest brother, Jonny, who is a chart-topping Christian musician, is busy on tour performing. Jonny's recent single, "More Beautiful You," spent several weeks in the Top 40 of the American Christian music charts.

All four Diaz brothers received scholarships to play baseball in college. Matt Diaz went to Florida State University, where he met his wife at a nightclub.

"God works in mysterious ways, because we're both Christian people and we ended up finding each other in a place where there was a whole lot of wrong going on," Diaz said.

Fellow Florida natives Tyler Pastornicky, David Ross and Jonny Venters also planned to have several family members and hometown friends visit.

Pastornicky grew up in Bradenton, which is about a 20-minute ride from Tropicana Field. The 22-year-old shortstop, who was in the starting lineup on Saturday, expected to have several friends make the trip.

Ross resides in Tallahassee with his wife, Hyla, and daughter and son. Ross, who graduated from Florida High School and then attended Auburn University before transferring to Florida as a junior, said he would be leaving 17 tickets for friends and family.

Venters went to high school in Orlando and attended Indian River Community College before being selected by the Braves in the 30th round of the 2003 Draft. He said he will have old friends from Lake Brantley High School visit on Saturday and his sister, who still lives in Orlando, will visit on Sunday.