BRANDON — For more than three decades, the Tony Saladino Baseball Tournament has seen the likes of Major League greats Dwight Gooden, Luis Gonzalez, Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff elevate the tourney to legendary status throughout the country.
Saladino recently sat down with the Times to talk about the new format and the future of the event. And for the first time publicly, his wife, Bertha, spoke about the health conditions that almost derailed the 31-year tradition.
The tournament switched formats from an all-week event to a split schedule where the first two pool games were played early in the season. What is your opinion of how it has gone so far?
Tony: It was a change that needed to be done because of spring break and district tournament scheduling, and in my opinion, it has gone very well. We weren't sure how things would work out with those games being played early, but everything worked out and we're ready for an exciting weekend of baseball.
You had to juggle the tournament schedule, but there were also concerns due to Bertha's health. Can you talk about how her condition affected planning?
Tony: My wife had surgery Nov. 2, Election Day, to correct a medical condition to her pelvic floor. That was my first priority and everything else took a backseat to her. This tournament was her dream and she was the one who really got things going. She comes first.
Bertha, you are such an integral part of the success of the tournament. When you first had the surgery, what were your thoughts on the tournament?
Bertha: Oh, my. All I could think about was getting better and I had to do three months of bed rest. It was awful. I missed Christmas, I missed everything, but I still kept my smile. Then while I was on bed rest, I ended up getting vertigo. It was like one thing, then another (laughing).
Bertha, where are you in terms of recovery?
Bertha: Well, the doctors told me they didn't need to see me for a year, so I guess that is good. I'm not sure if I'll ever feel all the way like myself again, though (laughing).
The food trailer that feeds coaches, umpires, scouts and media is legendary. Will that still be part of the tournament?
Bertha: I can't cook this year, but you know, when I called up all the places they told me, "Don't worry about it, we'll bring everything." So we won't bother with the trailer this year because all these local places will be catering for us. La Septima, Beef 'O' Brady's and Chick-fil-A all took my calls and offered to help me out. It was awesome and very touching to me.
Every year you get asked this, but is this the last year of the tournament?
Tony: We're going to take it one year at a time. It's in God's hands.
Since you won't be spending the entire days whipping up food for hundreds of people this year, will you be able to relax and enjoy the tournament or will it eat you up not to be cooking?
Bertha: You know, my grandsons (Brandon freshmen Jordan Feist and Austin Sullivan) will be playing in the tournament this year, so I will be out under the tents watching. It will be wonderful.
Tony: I don't think I've ever watched a full, complete game, but we'll be watching theirs.
If you could possibly pick one out of the 31 years, what is your favorite memory of the tournament?
Tony: Oh, there are so many. It's all the players who have come through. Not just the ones who ended up being major leaguers. I have guys come up to me all the time that say playing in this tournament was a highlight of their life. Our goal is to make an impact on each kid and help to produce caring, respectable citizens. I have every article ever written about the tournament, and one day I'll sit back and look at them to bring back the memories, but our goal is to make each year better than the next and that's what we want to do again this year.
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.