It was another great night for high school baseball in the Bay Area on Sunday night as Pinellas defeated Hillsborough 8-5 in the annual Tampa Bay High School All Star Classic held at Tropicana Field in St. Pete.
I've coached or coached against 13 of the players who played in the game and it was really cool to see the culmination of one journey in their young lives.
Instead of doing a full recap of the game, I'd rather just talk about what it was like to hang in the dugout during this game and talk about some of the memories I've shared with these players along the way.
Some takeaways from the Pinellas side :
- Always good to see my friend, and former Rays closer, Roberto Hernandez. Roberto had a team years ago known as the St. Pete Hurricanes (which turned into the St. Pete Saints), and many of those guys, including his son Jose from St. Pete Catholic, Kyle Kramer from St. Pete High, and Kamic Brown and Jake Dolcater from Boca Ciega, all played in the game. I remember many a night, where my team -- whether it was the Frozen Ropes or Tampa Twins -- played in the same tournament as Roberto's team and usually one of our teams was standing at the end. I'll never forget a tournament down in Sarasota back in 2010 where the Twins and Saints were battling for a championship. One of the light towers on our field went out and we had to wait for another game to finish so we could switch fields and complete our contest. During the delay, our two teams met at home plate and started talking, laughing, running races and having fun. We didn't tell them to do that, these kids did that on their own. The level of respect these two teams had for each other was unlike anything I've ever seen. For all the bad stories about travel ball out there, chalk that one up as one of the good ones. (PHOTO BELOW)
- Kyle Kramer was also on a Bullets team that I managed and he was always one of my favorite players to coach. He could play any position on the diamond and always did so with a smile on his face. His dad Danny is a trip too. I remember the first time I met him, we were staying in a hotel in Auburndale and he just kept saying that Kyle's team would beat us. The next morning...... we beat them 4-1. We've been buddies ever since.
- Another guy that I've coached many games against over the years is Tanner Baker from Countryside. He was always a very good player, but came into his own when he met up with Jim Mattos and the fellas at the West Florida Young Guns. Baker found his home on the mound and he parlayed that into a pretty successful high school career.
- The two most impressive players from the Pinellas side were Jonathan Alonso from Northside Christian and Luca Tresh from Clearwater Central Catholic. Alonso, who will be attending the State College of Florida in the Fall, got the party started with an RBI double in the 1st and added another hit later on, while Tresh, a North Carolina State commit, looked very polished behind the plate and brought home two runs with a double of his own in the 5th.
On the Hillsborough side :
- After spending just nine innings in the dugout with a few of their players, it's easy to see why Sickles had such an incredible season in 2018. Connor McTeer, who I dubbed "The Mayor", is always talking and encouraging and trying to learn. Zane Tarrance can play a multitude of positions and laid down a sweet bunt that had everyone in the dugout hootin' and hollerin'. And Jordan Montes had me dying laughing as we watched the game after he threw a scoreless inning in the 3rd. The way Montes spoke of his coach for the Gryphons, Eric Luksis, showed me that this wasn't just a team on the field, it was a family off of it.
- Two of the players on Hillsborough were more than just two former players, they are like little brothers to me. Danny Gutcher from Gaither, I've coached since he was seven years old and he and his family (Allan, Carol, Carley) are people that I consider family myself. Danny has a bright future ahead of himself at USF and I feel very fortunate to be a small part in his development. He was also a kid that played every position I asked and never said a peep about it. I still think his best position is shortstop but he has transformed himself into one of the best catchers around. Jordan Lala from Steinbrenner always lovingly calls me "bird" when I see him, but it was he who was flying around the bases on Sunday night (SEE BELOW). I remember when I first met Jordan, his brother Tyler and his mom and dad Kellee and Rene. It was over at a baseball facility I worked at called Frozen Ropes and we switched Jordan from a right-handed batter to a left-handed one. I've NEVER seen a kid make the transition as easy as Jordan did. He's the type of guy that can literally roll out of bed and go 3 for 4. He is committed to the University of Miami and will be a mainstay in the Canes lineup for years to come.
- One guy I never got the opportunity to coach, but wanted to, was Gaither shortstop Orlando Arevalo. He always has a smile on his face and his parents were always just so nice every time I saw them around the ballfield. He had two hits Sunday night and was a clear example why his transfer from Cambridge Christian to Gaither was huge for the Cowboys as he solidified an important position for one of the most steady programs in the County.
- A shoutout to Jermaine White from Brandon, who had some pretty competitive at-bats and made a nice catch on a foul ball in the 9th inning.
- I had a fantastic time chopping it up with the kids, but the coaches were a riot in the dugout as well. Coach Brett Goodrich from Tampa Bay Tech was the manager for the Hillsborough club and was gracious enough to let me hang in the dugout. He made it his duty to make sure that all of the players got in the game and had fun and I really appreciated that. Coach Jason Smith from Chamberlain and the rest of the fellas on the coaching staff all kept the environment on the bench light and fun and it was a joy to be in that atmosphere.
After a long regular season, the All Star Classic puts a nice little bow on the season for teams all across Tampa Bay. It's cool to see these kids end their high school careers playing on a Major League field. With that being said, this isn't the end for these players as most of them have committed to playing at the next level. Focus now turns to the three teams in the Bay Area vying for a State Championship this week. Best of luck to Jefferson, Leto and Strawberry Crest as they do their very best in bringing a title to the 813.