Say Cheese

"Behold. The Power of Cheese." Such is the mantra that resonates across Dick Howser stadium every time Florida State catcher Aaron Cheesman sprays a double into the gap, nails another runner attempting to swipe second base or comes up with a clutch base hit.

The famed "Animals" of Section B, a tight-knit group of FSU baseball diehards, are the originators of the cheer but the former Sarasota High catcher said plays on his name aren't limited to the homestands.

"When we go on the road, everyone always yells things at me," Cheesman said.

"They think they're being original. They don't realize I've heard it all from these guys around here. They even have a song about me now that mentions these different kinds of cheese."

Songbooks and cheering sections aside, what Cheesman has meant to his team this season between the foul lines is of a more serious nature. Though the young Seminoles (31-18) have endured a season of peaks and valleys, Cheesman has provided a stabilizing fixture behind the plate and in the middle of the order.

In his first season as the starting backstop, Cheesman has been solid, starting all 49 games at catcher. As of May 12, he was hitting .317 with 29 RBI and 12 doubles. FSU won each of the three games he has homered in.

Not bad numbers considering the challenge he faced coming into the season. Cheesman became heir apparent to the job after All-American Tony Richie left school early after the Chicago Cubs drafted him last summer.

Defensively, Cheesman lives up to his predecessor, who started every game behind the plate a season ago. Though ‘Cheese' doesn't boast Richie-like stats (.366/12/78), he more than makes up for it with his presence in the clubhouse.

"He's always the first guy to say something," junior pitcher Rhett James said. "When we have a team meeting – just the players – it's in his room and he is always the first one to talk."

And the transition was smooth.

"He's had a challenge catching every game and stepping in for Tony," James said. "He had to step up and become the team leader in a hurry. That's something we needed. That's a catcher's role."

The importance of Cheesman's leadership and intangibles are magnified this season as the Seminoles have struggled coping with the loss of its entire rotation, two outfielders and the corners of its infield from last season to either pro ball or graduation. FSU skipper Mike Martin has juggled his lineup on a day-to-day basis and used seven different starting pitchers in an attempt to find the right combination.

But when it comes to Cheesman, Martin could trade his No. 2 pencil for a Sharpie when filling out his lineup card. It took a little getting used to, but Cheesman prefers playing every day.

"The thing that got me ready for this is summer ball," said Cheesman, who hit .284 in 45 games as a DH and backup catcher in 2003. "Even in high school you're not playing everyday – just two or three times per week. It can wear and tear on you a bit.

"There has been times this year when I've felt it and it's been a struggle. But by game time you're ready to play. This is the fun time of year- getting towards the postseason."

Fun for more than one reason - true, the postseason is around the corner but the 'Noles are also starting to peak once again. In back-to-back weekends, FSU won four of six on the road against ACC foes Clemson and Virginia to get back in the conference race. Cheesman pointed to the May 7 contest against the Cavaliers as a possible turning point.

"The angles were weird at the their stadium and (Martin) wasn't able to call the pitches without them stealing the signs," he said. "So that was the first game ever that they let me call the game."

The result: James threw a complete-game, four-hit shutout in his first ever Friday night start to lead FSU to an 8-0 win. James was named ACC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.

"He was the one throwing the pitches but I want to take some of the credit, too," Cheesman laughed. "Seriously, it was a great feeling for me to catch that game with him pitching so well. Coach let me call the games the rest of the weekend."

The way Cheesman handles the pitching staff, Martin says, is the way he handles the entire team.

"There's no question that the guys listen to him," he said. "Aaron is a good leader and has a great feel for the game and is a very important part of the team. He goes out there with a cool head on his shoulder. I think he's helped solidify guys like (freshmen) Dennis Anderson and Shane Robinson."

And Cheesman hopes the best has yet to come. Despite their struggles this season, the Seminoles are still in an outside position to host a Regional that would afford them the home-field advantage to jump start this edition's postseason run. Unlike 2003, when FSU had the nation's top seed locked up for the final weeks of the season, every game counts.

"To be honest with you, I don't think we have gelled completely yet," Cheesman said. "But the way we have battled this year – even in losses – shows the character of this team."

And the way it has held together during several rough stretches shows the character of its catcher.


Tonight at Florida – Eddie Cannon (7-5, 4.28 in 15 starts)
Friday against Duke – Rhett James (6-2, 2.82 in 73.1 IP)
Saturday against Duke – Brian Schultz (5-1, 4.15)
Sunday against Duke – Mark Sauls (4-4, 5.18 in 12 starts)


The importance of tomorrow's game at UF goes beyond deciding the season series. Miami has all but ensured themselves the right to host an NCAA Regional and the Gators are also jockeying to host.

FSU is currently No. 12 in the Psuedo-RPI on

"They look at you're ability to generate income as well as how you finish the season when deciding on host sites," Martin said. "Every game is a must win. If we can accomplish that, hopefully our track record speaks for itself."

Added James: "If you are going to lose games, lose them at the beginning of the season and come back strong. That's what we've been doing."

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