TAMPA — The 34th annual Tony Saladino Baseball Tournament will begin Saturday with 28 teams competing at four sites: Brandon High, Newsome High, Chamberlain High and the University of Tampa.
The tournament was started in 1981 by Tony Saladino and his wife Bertha to honor Tony’s father, Tony Saladino Sr.
Tournament headquarters, which has made its home around the field at Brandon High for a decade, is a roving museum of baseball’s history in the Tampa area.
The hospitality area for players, coaches, officials and the tournament’s numerous volunteers and invitees is a time capsule of pictures from the numerous players who have moved from the tournament’s ranks to the major leagues, including the first tournament’s MVP and former 1984 Rookie of the Year Dwight Gooden (Hillsborough) all the way to last season’s National League Rookie of the Year and current Miami Marlin Jose Fernandez (Alonso).
“We get rejuvenated every year,’’ Tony Saladino said. “It’s much bigger than what we think it is, because we do it as a labor of love, but it’s big in the thoughts of kids and folks in the community. Every time we think about slowing it down or giving it up — besides baseball — it’s just too good to give up.”
Here are some things to watch for during the six days of the tournament, which culminates with the championship game March 14 at 7 p.m. at Brandon High:
The 28 teams split into seven brackets and compete in pool play through Tuesday, with seven winners and one wild-card team moving on to the final eight-team tournament at Brandon from Wednesday through Friday.
Three games decide whether or not a team advances from pool play, but the six-day tournament also requires a skillful hand from the coaches, as teams need to rely on depth, especially on the mound. Pitchers, especially those deeper in rotations, can be crucial.
Case in point: Last season’s champion, Bloomingdale, got two superb starts from current Florida International pitcher Cody Crouse, including a seven-inning performance in the final. However, the Bulls got significant help in the tournament from current ace Logan Crouse, who earned three wins in 14 innings throughout the week.
With many teams playing regular-season games March 22, the two teams who reach the championship could play 10 games in the next 17 days.
Jefferson has made three consecutive finals, and Bloomingdale reached the final the past two seasons with the Bulls winning in 2013 and the Dragons taking the title the year before.
Alonso won tournament championships in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
“We’re like everybody else, we go out every year and really want to win it,” Alonso coach Landy Faedo said. “Guys who haven’t had a lot of opportunities to pitch will get their innings, and new players have to come through for you. … If you make it to the finals you’ve played the maximum allotted games; if you don’t, you can’t pick up extra games, so it give you the best chance to get prepared for the end of the year.”
Private schools also playing during break
The Carrollwood Day junior varsity and varsity (3-3) baseball teams will be spending their spring break on the field, as the Patriots will travel to South Florida for a number of games.
The varsity team will travel to Key West to play four games against Miami Country Day, Coral Shores, Marathon and Key West.
“It’s a great trip, with strong competition and memories that our kids and families will have forever; it’s going to be good for our entire program,” Patriots coach Nick Rodriguez said.
Jesuit (9-1) travels to face No. 14-ranked (MaxPreps.com) Venice (7-1) tonight before the Tigers take a week off for exams. However, Jesuit will return to action March 15, playing Pensacola Catholic on its way to New Orleans to play New Orleans Newman and New Orleans Jesuit.
King will honor former coach Howell
King’s baseball program has scheduled a lunch and tribute to former Lions coach Billy Howell (1972-75) for March 22 before the team’s district game against Hillsborough.
Former Lions players interested in attending or looking for information should contact King coach Jim Macaluso at the school.