TAMPA - Three times Spencer Trayner has made the trip with his Jesuit baseball team to the FHSAA Final Four.
Three times he returned to Jesuit unhappy. For the fourth straight year, the Tigers earned their way to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers May 22 for the Final Four. Trayner, who is a pitcher, infielder and captain of the Tigers, has only one chance left at a state title.
He said this is the year. Jesuit pulled out a stunning win to earn the trip to Fort Myers when, trailing by one and down to their final strike, the Tigers pulled out a win over visiting Auburndale.
That's about as close as Trayner wants to come to losing this year.
"I was terrified,'' Trayner said of that last inning. "We just looked at each other. We knew someone was going to do something, but that was a tough way to finish it out."
Trayner is one of seven pitchers on a Tigers roster that not only has been ranked near the top of state rankings in Florida, but also at the top of national rankings. Trayner left regionals with a batting average of .463 with 30 runs scored. He's also 7-1 on the mound with a 1.25 earned run average.
Those numbers caught the eye of college coaches all over the country and Trayner expects to suit up next year for the University of North Carolina, one of the college baseball powerhouses, where he will room with teammate and co-captain Adrian Chacon.
Trayner has the bat and the arm to make it, but if he has his choice, he wants to be a closer. Most pitchers want to start and get the ball every fifth day, but Trayner has other thoughts.
"There's no feeling like getting the ball with the game on the line,'' Trayner said. "I want the game in my hand. Just give me the ball and let me pitch.''
Unlike most kids who are now learning baseball on their X-boxes, Trayner learned it the way it used to be. He played ball with his dad, playing outdoors at hotbox or burnout. Most kids have no idea what those games are, but Trayner grew up old school with games that meant throwing as hard as possible to anyone he could find.
"My dad always took me outdoors to play,'' Trayner said. "That's how I learned the game. I threw it hard and they threw it hard back at me. I learned the game the right way.''
He never let it get in the way of his schoolwork either. Grades are never an issue at Jesuit, and Trayner is no exception.
What does the future hold four years from now after he's done at North Carolina? Trayner isn't looking that far ahead, but if he gets his way, he'll be closing for some major league team. He looks up to Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney, and he can reach 95 miles per hour on his fastball, so he's off to a good start.
For now, the only thing that matters is that state championship at Jesuit. Everything else can wait.