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King baseball alums, coaches reunite for Lions' share of memories

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Sat. April 6, 2013 | Joey Knight | Email

King baseball alums, coaches reunite for Lions' share of memories

On a bright, cloudless day, beneath a tent erected just beyond the first-base line of King High's ballpark, a half-century's worth of generations converged Saturday.

So did three of the four baseball coaches in the school's 53-year history.

Dozens of former Lions players partook of sandwiches, sodas and a smorgasbord of memories in honor of 76-year-old Jim Marshall (pictured, center), the school's first coach (1961-68). Joining him were fellow former coach Billy Howell (1970-75) and current skipper Jim Macaluso (1976-present).

Marshall, surrounded by several of his former players, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Lions' game against Bloomingdale. Prior to that, the alumni spent roughly an hour trading hugs, barbs, even a bit of hyperbole.

"We used to drag the field with the driver's ed car," Marshall, also King's driver's ed teacher, said with a chuckle.

That field, located several hundred yards from the current on-campus park, had a mostly clay outfield, no fence and no lights. Night games were played at old Cuscaden Park in nearby Ybor City.

Almost fittingly, Marshall was a man of as few frills as the field he dragged by car.

"Tremendous integrity," Howell said. "Just a very decent man."

Marshall (left) led King's first team, which had no seniors, to four victories in 1961, according to former Lions statistician Jeff Smith. Three springs later, the Lions topped Hillsborough 1-0 in the district final at Cuscaden Park en route to the Class 2A state semifinals.

The Lions fell to West Palm Beach Forest Hill, 7-4. King would not return to the final four until 2010, when Macaluso (right) led the Lions to the 5A semifinals.

Marshall, who now resides in Clearwater, stepped down after the '68 season and took a job as a scout with the San Diego Padres. Over 27 years, he signed several eventual Padres stars including Bill Almon, Johnny Grubb and Mike Ivie.

He was replaced for one season by Bobby Hillier, who resides out of state. Howell, now 73 and a Sun City resident, coached the Lions for six seasons before giving way to Macaluso, a '66 King graduate.

"I left him a 17-3 team, so he was happy," Howell said.

Strangely, Macaluso, the county's second-longest-tenured coach at his school behind Jefferson's Pop Cuesta, never played baseball at King. At the behest of King track coach Dick Carlson, he focused on sprinting in the spring.

On Saturday, several of his peers corroborated Macaluso once ran the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds. He eventually accepted a track scholarship to Manatee Junior College.

"He wasn't just fast," said '66 graduate Les Parker, a three-sport star who once threw a no-hitter against Brandon. "He was big-time fast."

For one sentimental Saturday, Macaluso stood still. Dozens of decades-long peers caught up with him.

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