When baseball captain R.D. DeSantis ’01 was a senior at Dunedin High School in Dunedin, Fla., his team faced current St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel in the state semifinal game — a daunting task considering that that was back when Ankiel’s lightning fast pitches still managed to find the same area code as home plate.

DeSantis’ team beat Ankiel — who was 13-0 with a 0.00 earned run average at the time — to advance to the state title game. The squad ended up losing the state championship game, but DeSantis’ baseball experience at Dunedin — which currently is the No. 5 team in the nation, as determined by Baseball America — was second to none.

DeSantis, who plays in the outfield for Yale, said that growing up in the baseball haven of Dunedin — where the Toronto Blue Jays have long held their spring training — spurred his interested in the sport. And since he tightened his batting gloves and dug into the batter’s box for the first time, DeSantis has been lucky enough to live out the childhood baseball dreams of many.

“We contended for the state title every year,” DeSantis said. “We played and practiced in the Toronto Blue Jays spring training stadium. I have not played on a field even close to that nice since I left. It was big time.”

But DeSantis was used to the big time by that point. When he was 12 years old, his team made it to the Little League World Series, in Williamsport, Pa.

“We were like local celebrities for a while,” he said. “We were the lead story in the local newscasts and on the front page of the Tampa area papers.”

DeSantis has done nothing but shine since coming to Yale, either. In 1998 he earned the team’s Rookie of the Year Honors.

It was in his freshman year that DeSantis’ fondest memory as a Bulldog occurred, when the team swept Dartmouth to keep its slim Ivy hopes alive.

“We fell behind 9-0 in the first game,” DeSantis recalled. “Somehow, we came back and won the game and the next three games.”

His 28 RBIs and .314 batting average last season were second and third on the team, respectively.

This spring he has gotten off to another fast start, currently leading the team in batting average (.465), hits (20), slugging percentage (.581), doubles (5, tied with Darren Beasley ’03) and on-base percentage (.521).

As captain, DeSantis views his role as more of a teacher than a motivator.

“We have a very knowledgeable coaching staff here, but I can offer the guys some things from the perspective of someone who has been around this league for three years and knows what to expect,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis modeled his style of leadership after that of Tommy Kidwell ’98, who was the team’s captain in DeSantis’ rookie season.

“He was all baseball all the time,” DeSantis said. “He was a great captain because his desire to win spread to the whole team. He’s definitely the best teammate that I have had at Yale.”

This year’s freshmen have similar sentiments about DeSantis.

“He’s a great captain,” Kyle Cousin ’04 said. “He helps everybody out. He is a true leader on and off the field.”