King will host Hillsborough on Saturday in a matchup of the top teams in Class 6A, District 9. But when the home players suit up for the matinee ball game, they won’t be the only Lions in the house.
Last season, King honored the baseball teams from 1960-1968 — the first teams in school history — with a pre-game reception and ceremony. It was such a great day, coach Jim Macaluso said, he wanted to do it again.
“I saw how good it went over last year,” Macaluso said. “Those guys, some of them haven’t seen each other since they graduated from high school in the ’60s. And they really enjoyed visiting and just sharing stories.”
Before Saturday’s game against the Terriers, King will hold a reception on the field at 11 a.m. for former coach Billy Howell and members of the King baseball teams from 1972-75. At 12:45 there will be an onfield ceremony, and Howell will throw out the first pitch for the game.
After his team took batting practice on last year’s recognition day, Macaluso said he sent his players up to the tents to hang out with the former Lions. Those King alumni didn’t have a locker room or even a home field.
This year’s ceremony promises to give his guys a similar glimpse into the past, Macaluso said.
“It makes our guys a little bit appreciative,” he said. “I think it’s a win-win for everybody.
Home runs still low
Now in the third season with bats that comply with the Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution standards — guidelines that determine the velocity a ball travels upon impact —few high school players in Hillsborough County have experienced the difference between the two styles at this level.
Sickles senior Levi Gilcrease, who played for Cambridge Christian as a middle schooler, knows them both well. And though he liked how far he could send a ball with the old ones, the rightfielder has trained himself to adapt to the BBCOR bats.
“If you get the right bat and hit on the barrel, it’ll still go,” said Gilcrease, who has two home runs this season. “But it is a difference, and sometimes I wish I had the other bats.”
As far as many coaches are concerned, the new bats are a much-needed safety feature. The effects on the game, though, have been huge.
“I’ve seen low scoring games,” said Sickles coach Bob Pagano, who’s been coaching since the school opened in 1997. “It doesn’t have that pop.”
King’s Bubby Terp, Plant’s Kyle Tucker, Brandon’s Ryan Anderson, Seffner Christian’s Rett Hobbs and Steinbrenner’s Cole Gordon lead the county in home runs with three. Last year at this time, the home run leaders — including Tucker, Gilcrease and Gordon — had five.
Last week Gordon, a Mississippi State commit, won the 12th annual Saladino Tournament home run derby with just a single home run. He was the only player in the competition to hit one.
In Sickles’ 4-1 win against Plant on Tuesday, the Panthers’ only run of the game came on a Tucker bomb he hit just over the rightfield wall.
It was a sight Pagano has gotten used to not seeing so much.
“I think if he had that other bat, that thing would have been long gone,” Pagano said. “But that’s okay. I’m glad they have (changed). It’s safety for the kids.”
The West Coast Umpires Association honored Durant coach Butch Valdes with its annual Artie Vazquez Sportsmanship Award. Valdes, in his sixth season coaching the Cougars, led Durant to a state championship game last season. It lost 8-3 to Lake Brantley. The Cougars finished the season 25-6-2.
Last year, the award, which is given out every year at the Saladino Tournament, went to longtime Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta, Valdes’ high school coach.