BRANDON — The ball sailed over the fence, high and long, so long it disappeared into the lights and trees and lawn chairs. It was the longest and farthest Brandon junior catcher Mike Smith said he has ever hit a ball.
You would have heard about Smith eventually. Next year, probably. See, he's the catcher, the old man at 17 on a team of baby faces too young to shave. But apparently starting seven sophomores is more than old enough to beat Plant and Alonso and Hillsborough to win the week-long Saladino.
Next year is this year, and Smith's home run may have ushered in the era of the Brandon Eaglets a little early. And he did so in remarkably dramatic fashion, this old codger.
His home run came at Don Powell Field, where the Eaglets play their home games. It came in the eighth inning. And it extended a 37-game hitting streak to 38, a streak that two innings earlier appeared all but doomed.
But the most amazing thing of all about the home run is that they found it, and it was still within city limits.
"I don't think I've ever hit one like that," he said.
Mark Smith, Mike's dad, cheered the blast, then jotted it down in his scorebook, like he has been doing for more than a decade. His son started playing at age 3. There have been hundreds of games, pages and pages filled with the scribbled pencil marks of Mark Smith. Each time, it gets more special.
For 38 straight games, dating to all 22 games this season and the 16 of last season, Dad has scored at least one hit for his kid.
One time, against Armwood a few weeks back, the streak almost ended. Another extra-inning affair, and a pressure-packed single by Mike, kept it alive.
"That was the only other close call," Dad said.
But that was Armwood. This was Saladino.
"There is nothing better," Mike Smith said. "To hit one to win the Saladino? Nothing better."
In the sixth inning, a hitless Smith had grounded meekly to second base. Brandon was winning. One inning later, the Eaglets weren't winning. Fab freshman Chase Sparkman had allowed Hillsborough to tie it at 3. Or as it will be known in the Smith household, gave Mike another chance.
He only needed one.
First pitch. Gone.
It was a curveball. Same one that had flustered Smith all game. Same type everyone had been throwing him all week.
"I was sitting dead red on a curveball," he said.
And a curveball it was.
He watched it disappear into the night sky, taking a leisurely trip down the first-base line to admire the shot, and he expects it may earn him an inside pitch or two when these teams meet again Tuesday. The home run derby held earlier, the one where Smith only hit one out of the park in 10 swings, was a distant memory. The home run that won Saladino was fresh as could be.
After the congratulatory bear hugs and slaps on the back and hair tousling, Mike Smith ran toward the stands. The ball, the longest and farthest he had ever hit, sailed over the fence for the second time that night, through the crowd and into the right hand of his dad.