On July 3, Jesuit announced Miguel Menendez as its new baseball coach. He replaces Jesuit alumus and eight-year coach Richie Warren. Here are 10 facts about the new leader of one of the Tampa Bay area's most storied high school baseball programs:
1. Talk about a homecoming. Menendez was born at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital, located just more than a mile from Jesuit's campus. When he was a month old, Menendez moved to Key West and lived there until he left for college."It’s exciting," he said of his return. "If I was ever going to leave Key West, Tampa was the one place I would consider."
2. Menendez is no stranger to baseball championships. As a senior for Key West High School in 1995, he helped the Conchs — who now own a state-high 11 baseball titles — win their eighth state championship. In 1998, Menendez's junior year at the University of Tampa, he helped lead the Spartans to a Division II national championship. “I feel like I was blessed and had a very successful baseball career,” he said.
3. A catcher and first baseman, Menendez was recruited to play baseball at the University of Tampa by former Spartans coach Lelo Prado, but in the summer before Menendez's freshman year, Prado left to take the job at Louisville and was replaced by future Jesuit athletic director Terry Rupp.
4. During his eight years as head coach at Key West, Menendez was matched up with Jesuit twice. Jesuit beat the Conchs 8-1 in Key West on March 18, 2011. The next season, the Conchs traveled to Tampa to take on Jesuit again, but the game was rained out. "We had a nice dance-off on the tarps out there," Menendez recalled.
5. Though Menendez has spent most of his life in Key West, the lifelong Floridian has lots of family in the Tampa Bay area. Menendez said most of his mother's family resides here, and he has an aunt and uncle from his father's side who live in Brandon. He also has a second cousin who is a student at Sickles.
6. Menendez said he heard about the Jesuit opening in June and quickly began a nearly month-long hiring process. He interviewed for the job three times, driving a total of 30 hours from Key West to Tampa and back...twice. “The third time they saved me a trip. They let me interview via Skype," he said. "It saved some miles on the car.”
7. One of the selling points about Menendez, Rupp said, was his teaching experience. In addition to coaching baseball, Menendez will join the more than half of Jesuit coaches who also spend time in the classroom. Menendez has taught social studies for 14 years and will teach economics, American government and American history at Jesuit.
8. While Menendez is in the process of settling in his new home, his family will arrive a little later. His wife, Lori, and their kids — Miguel, 11, Elizabeth, 10, and Jackson, 6 — will officially move to town after the next school year so his daughter can finish elementary school in Key West. “They do a big graduation thing,” Menendez said. “We didn’t want to take that away from her.”
9. Having been coached by Rupp for four years at UT, Menendez — who considers himself a "hard-nosed guy" — said much of his coaching style comes from the current Jesuit athletic director. "To me it’s about hard work. We want to out work you. It’s not so much how much talent — everybody’s got some talent — but it doesn’t take any talent to give me effort," Menendez said. "Practices are my game days."
10. Menendez has not yet reached out to Warren — who is now the head baseball coach at Berkeley Prep — since taking over his old job, but he says he plans to. That being said, the new coach isn't worried about the challenges that could come with a coaching change. “Kids are resilient. As long as you’re upfront and honest with them and you’re real, they’re going to see that I’m not fake and I’m going to be there for them," he said. "They’ll be fine, and they’ll come on over.”