TAMPA — At the beginning of the 2014 baseball season, Jefferson coach Pop Cuesta, 69, sat his players down and told it to them straight.
"I said I was going to play it year to year depending on how I felt," Cuesta said of his 43-year career at the helm for the Dragons. "If I felt good, I'd come back. If I didn't, it might be time for a younger person to come in."
A few days after his team's May 1 loss to Osceola in the region quarterfinals, Cuesta decided the time for retirement had come, and he informed the school, which announced his departure Tuesday afternoon.
During his 43 years coaching baseball at Jefferson — 38 of which he also served as a driver's education teacher at the school — Cuesta coached a number of players who would go on to play professional baseball, including Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez. Cuesta also coached current Durant head baseball coach Butch Valdes and Alonso head coach Landy Faedo.
"Everybody you play for, you learn from other people," said Faedo, who played catcher for the Dragons in 1982-83. "I definitely do things that he did…the longevity is unbelievable."
Cuesta, who graduated from Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was born and raised in Ybor City where he was neighbors with former Gaither baseball head coach Frank Permuy. Permuy also retired after the 2014, having spent 30 years coaching the Cowboys.
Though a decision hasn't been made about Cuesta's successor, the longtime coach said he thinks current assistant and Jefferson alumnus Juan Fontela would be a good choice.
Cuesta admitted that some of the aspects of coaching, like field work and fundraising, had become a chore for him. Being around the boys and the camaraderie he shared with his fellow coaches, though, never got old.
"That's going to be missed," he said, "But eventually everybody's got to move on."