An incredible season for the Strawberry Crest baseball team came to an end on Friday morning as they fell 5-2 to Sarasota in the 8A State Semifinal.
Typically a very defensively-sound team, the Chargers committed seven errors in the loss, but I don't wanna harp on that.
Being around this group, you really got the sense that they were more than a team. They were like a family. That doesn't just start with the coaches, you have to give a ton of credit to the parents who fostered that kind of environment before these young men ever stepped on the field.
You could feel the love and passion from the stands when you watched these boys play. They were into the game from the first pitch and supported each player on the team, not just their own son.
Take 1B/3B Derek Barone's mom Lara for example.
A lot of us couldn't make the game up at Fleming Island High School near Jacksonville so Lara was nice enough to broadcast it on Facebook Live so we could cheer along from Tampa. Her phone almost ran out of battery, so she had to steal her husband Frank's phone so we could stay up-to-date with the game. I've known the Barone family for a long time and that's one thing I always loved about them. It's never just about their kids, they are always willing to go the extra mile to help others. That gesture right there is symbolic of what the Crest families are all about.
I mean, look at THIS VIDEO. Before the team headed to States, all of the families lined up on the highway as the boys were escorted out of town by the local fire department. How cool is that?
For me, just being around this team was an honor and a pleasure. They showed such resiliency and togetherness through tough times and were prime examples that sports can really bring a group of people together to do great things. The relationships fortified between the people involved with this program will certainly last a lifetime.
I had such a great time watching these guys play this year.
Derek Barone AKA "Mr. Clutch" came up with big hit after big hit and I can't wait to watch him play for HCC next season. Ryan Dell is smooth as silk at shortstop and is a kid that just does not stop working to be the best. The double plays he and second baseman Jacob Heath turned this season always seemed to come at the biggest moments when the team really needed them. Joey Parrillo, "the straw that stirs the drink", was the true definition of a field general behind the plate and he always made this team fun to watch, especially when he busted his butt running after a foul ball at the end of the season. (Sorry Joe, you know I had to get that in there). Whether it was Kade Manderscheid or Brent May gutting it out on the mound, Damien Torres always had their back and the defense transitioned smoothly as Tanner Kelley came into play first and Barone slid over to third. I could go on and on about these guys but I'd be here all night.
Last but not least, I gotta give a shout out to my man Benny Pues. I first got to talk to Ben at the Saladino Tournament and instantly realized why some of my old players loved hanging around with him. He's a team-first leader who always has good things to say about others. After dealing with some health issues, I made it out to a Crest game at the end of the season even though I wasn't feeling 100%. At the end of my postgame interviews Ben stopped me and thanked me for coming out to the game and supporting the Chargers. That meant the world to me. In this day and age where we sometimes forget to say our pleases and thank yous and manners seem to be as random as a Florida afternoon shower, Ben showed me that there are still many good people in this world, and it's no surprise that he is a part of this program.
Finally, I can't finish this piece without talking about my good pal Eric Beattie. Friendship aside, I think Eric is one of the top coaches around, hands down. His ability to communicate with kids and to adapt to personalities makes him one of the finest people I know. I remember meeting Beattie when I was coaching at Freedom years ago. We were having our Senior Night that night and I'll never forget that Beattie did I/O that night with no ball. If you've never seen "Phantom I/O" before, it's pretty damn cool when your kids do it right. It teaches the boys fundamentals and communication and the Chargers pulled it off to a "T". Eric does a great job of instilling a phenomenal work ethic in his clubs, but he also doesn't take himself too seriously either. He knows exactly when to pull off the reins and to let the kids be kids. That's what happened this year with this Strawberry Crest team. When things got a little hectic in the middle of the season, Coach Beattie and the staff took the foot off the gas pedal a little bit and let the team breathe. That's the sign of a great coach, but more importantly, that's the sign of a great leader.
So did the season end a little bit earlier than they would have liked? Yeah.
But I can speak for my buddy Jarrett Guthrie from 813preps.com (who's story you can read BELOW) when I say that just being around this team made this year one of the best years we've EVER covered high school baseball.
Congratulations to the Chargers players, coaches and families. It's been one heck of a ride.
PHOTO : Courtesy of 813 Preps