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TAMPA — When Landy Faedo’s Alonso baseball team entered last year’s Saladino Tournament, he already knew the Ravens had a shot to play deep into the postseason.
And after the Ravens won the annual 28-team spring tournament, it propelled them through the postseason to the Class 6A state title, the first by a Hillsborough County team since 2001.
“The tournament helped us a lot last year because some people got more of an opportunity to play and get themselves ready for what’s ahead in the future,” Faedo said. “It puts some added pressure compared to the rest of the season.”
In recent years, winning the Saladino, which is celebrating its 30th, has served as a launching pad to postseason success. Each of the past five winners has advanced to at least the region final. The past two years, the Saladino champs went to the state tournament.
And last year, the Ravens won it all.
Six games in seven days takes a lot out of a team. First, they must survive three days of pool play, then win three elimination games. Pitching staffs need to be deep. The scope of a game can be changed by one big defensive play. Little-known players can become heroes. And the event regularly draws crowds, including several major league scouts, that line the field.
“It does propel you because you’ve got to be playing your best baseball to win it,” said Gaither coach Frank Permuy, whose 2005 Saladino winning team advanced to the Class 5A state title game. “The crowds are bigger than usual, the atmosphere is top notch.
“When we won, we had to grind it out. We didn’t blow anybody out. I think we came together as a team because we really wanted to win it.”
Two years ago, a Brandon team full of sophomores came into the Saladino with a pedestrian 10-6 record. They won the tournament, then went on to 18 straight wins and advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals.
“I think the first thing that sticks out is the competition,” Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer said. “From top to bottom, you have to play at a high level to win. Once you get out of pool play, you’re staring at eight pretty good teams who all deserve to win. The one thing with kids is they need to draw from something, and winning lets them do that.”
With this year’s tournament being later in the season — most teams only have one or two district games remaining — the postseason benefit is greater.
“Usually you have a lot of questions going in,” Stallbaumer said. “Who is going to step up? Who do you pitch here? How are we going to come from behind? The tournament always answers those questions for down the road.”
Then there are the bragging rights, the swagger that comes with the claim of being the best team in Hillsborough County.
“It’s a hard-fought tournament,” Permuy said. “People say, ‘Well I’m not going to waste my pitcher here. I’m not going to throw my best guy because I have a big game when the tournament is over.’ That’s all (trash). Everybody wants to win it. Now they’re giving rings away.”
Last season, Alonso had just lost its senior ace, Ray Delphey, for the season with a knee injury. At the Saladino new aces emerged, with left-hander Thomas Dorminy and right-hander Jose Fernandez leading the Ravens along the way with dominant outings.
Their performances foreshadowed postseason success. Dorminy was the county’s most dominant pitcher, tossing a no-hitter against Melbourne in the region final, and Fernandez handcuffed Miami Columbus in the state title game.
“Every year, there’s going to be some underlying kid or underlying theme,” Stallbaumer said. “When we won, it was a bunch of young kids grasping the idea of winning. Last year, it was pitching. I’m excited to see what it will be this year. But there will always be a team that comes out on the positive side and maybe another team that misses out and loses sight.”
Saladino breeds success
Over the past five years, the team that has won the Saladino Tournament has played deep into the playoffs, highlighted by Alonso’s run to the Class 6A state title last season.
Year Saladino winner Postseason run
2009 Alonso 6A state champion
2008 Brandon 5A state semifinalist
2007 Alonso 6A region finalist
2006 Hillsborough 5A state semifinalist
2005 Gaither 5A state finalist
Saladino by the numbers
1000 Plates of food served to visitors, media, scouts, coaches, former players, VIPs, players and coaches
250 Pounds of potato salad served out of Bertha Saladino’s kitchen every Saladino week
49 Games played during each Saladino Tournament at four sites
35 Players who have played in the Saladino, then made the major leagues
28 Teams in the field; this year they are all Hillsborough County public schools
21 Former Saladino players to become high school coaches in Hillsborough County, including 10 current coaches
6 Saladino championships won by Brandon, most by any school
4 Former Saladino players to hit at least 330 homers in the majors: Gary Sheffield (509), Fred McGriff (493), Luis Gonzalez (354), Tino Martinez (339)
2 Teams that won the Saladino back-to-back years (Bloomingdale, 1994-95; Sickles 2001-02)
1 Saladino MVPs who also won the Cy Young Award (Dwight Gooden, Hillsborough, 1981)
When: Saturday-April 16
Where: Pool play at Brandon, Riverview Jefferson, University of Tampa. Once pool play is over, all games move to Brandon.
For the complete schedule, go here.