TAMPA — Last year's installment of the Saladino Baseball Tournament featured something never seen before in the prestigious event's 31-year history — a change in scheduling.
This time around, the tournament has returned to its familiar spring break format.
Tony Saladino's reaction?
"Whew," he said. "We all just wiped our brows when we heard."
With high schoolers' spring break pushed back later than usual last year, the Saladino Tournament was forced to rearrange its schedule. Normally held at four sites over the course of spring break, last year's tournament featured a split schedule with two of the pool games played early in the season.
"It was tough because we had more sites spread out over two separate times with a big void in the middle," Saladino said. "It was different but this year we're back to normal."
He said the split schedule interrupted "the flow" of the tournament, which in previous years has seen the likes of future Major League Baseball stars Dwight Gooden, Tino Martinez and Gary Sheffield grace its fields.
"It all ended well, but it was tough not being one solid week," Saladino said. "We're happy to have it back like it used to be."
Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer, whose field will host the final brackets and again serve as tournament headquarters, said some coaches didn't like last year's format.
"I know initially some coaches were frustrated but it had to be done because of the way the (school) district set up spring break," he said. "So in that way, I think people are looking forward to it returning to how it's always been. You really look forward to it being in the middle of the season with half your district games before and half after."
Another change from last year is how the pools will be set up. Tournament officials seeded teams to avoid lumping too many good teams in one pool and made sure district opponents were not in the same pool.
"Avoiding district teams in pool play is big, and I think it's a much better format this way," Stallbaumer said. "We've got the trailers set up at the field already, and we're looking forward to it."
With all back to normal, Saladino and his wife, Bertha, are looking forward to again hosting what has become one of the premier high school baseball tournaments in the country. Saladino said Bertha, who has been dealing with health issues the past two years, is especially looking forward to this year's tournament.
"It's going to be a big booster shot for her because she loves being visible and being with people," he said. "It's therapy for both of us."
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.