BRANDON — It may not look like versions from the past three decades, but one of the nation's most notable prep baseball tournaments returns in 2011.
With a few tweaks.
The 31st annual Saladino Baseball Tournament, a high school baseball staple, has changed its format because of scheduling conflicts. The tournament, a weeklong spring break tradition for area high school baseball players, will feature pool play games during the start of the season (Feb. 8, 10 and 15) with quarterfinals through finals held March 18, 19 and 21.
"We had to do some juggling," Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said. "There were a number of ideas presented to us, but this seemed to be the best way for the tournament to move forward."
Last year the Hillsborough County School Board designated April 25-29 for students' spring break in 2011. Those dates, however, coincide with FHSAA district baseball tournaments. That left a prep tournament that counts Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez and Denard Span as alumni in limbo.
"Spring break had been moved back so we had no alternative but to try to make a move," Tony Saladino said. "Lanness Robinson really was the one who made it happen."
Robinson said working out the logistics of the tournament wasn't easy but something he considered important. It helped that there is no school on March 18 and March 21.
"This tournament has a legacy around here and we wanted to make every effort to accommodate it," he said. "Overwhelmingly, the thing everyone wanted to see was it continue."
Brandon baseball coach Matt Stallbaumer and a number of his colleagues offered their opinions in trying to come up with an equitable solution. Some coaches didn't like adding three games to an already busy early-season schedule.
"Some guys didn't like having that many games backed up at the start," he said. "There just didn't seem to be any better options."
Stallbaumer said ideas ranged from holding the entire tournament during a different week to having the whole thing played at the beginning of the season.
"But, you know, there's 26 or 28 public schools and each coach has their own ideas," he said. "Ultimately, this was the best fit of all the scenarios."
The first two of the three pool games will not count in overall season standings. The third will be considered each team's overall season opener. Riverview and Durant will host pool play sites. The quarters, semis and finals will be held at Brandon.
"Seeding (in pool play) is always an issue, but before you could look at what a team had done up to that point," Stallbaumer said. "These are the first games of the year, so nobody really knows who has what."
The tournament, which started out as an 11-team field in 1981, will feature a record 32 entries this season. Stallbaumer said that regardless of the format switch, the tournament will again be a huge part of springtime in Hillsborough County.
"This isn't the ideal scenario for every coach, but ultimately this tournament is about tradition and the guys who have played in it in the past and what it stands for around here," he said. "There's a lot of respect for Tony (Saladino) and what he's done for baseball around here."