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Thompson takes Saladino Award

Bruce Thompson passed on Seattle's offer after being drafted in the seventh round of last week's amateur baseball draft. But on Sunday, Thompson was dealt another chip to lay down when he walks back to the negotiating table this week.

A first-team Class 4A all-state selection this year, Thompson won the 21st annual Tony Saladino Award, which signifies Hillsborough County's top senior baseball player.

Coaches from Hillsborough County participated in both the nominations and voting for the award, which is based primarily on ability, with consideration given for leadership and character.

"This is something that I will definitely use the next time I talk with Seattle. I'm just going to show them the list (of past winners), and ask them to bump up my numbers a little bit," Thompson joked, referring to the list of past Saladino Award winners.

Over the past 21 years, seven Saladino winners have appeared in at least one regular-season Major League Baseball game. Previous winners include Mike Heath (who graduated from Hillsborough in 1973), Dave Magadan (Jesuit, 1980), Vance Lovelace (Hillsborough, 1981), Gary Sheffield (Hillsborough, 1986) and Tino Martinez (Jefferson, 1985).

Thompson, who also signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Miami next year, is only the second player from Brandon to win the award.

"He's in a win-win situation," Brandon coach Robert Campbell said of Thompson's decision to either play college or professional baseball. "He can either turn pro, or play with one of the most successful college teams in the 1980s. Wherever he goes, I know that he'll be a big plus to the organization that gets him."

After playing in the Olympic Festival last summer in Minneapolis, Thompson led the Eagles in 25 games by hitting .434 with 25 RBI, nine doubles, five home runs and 11 stolen bases. But Thompson says his biggest strides this year weren't visible on the baseball diamond.

"Mentally, I grew up a lot this season," Thompson said. "I learned how to hit the ball to all fields, which was something I needed to learn, but I think I made the most progress with the mental aspect of my game.

"My first year at Brandon (in 1990, after transferring from Tampa Catholic), I had a slow start and went through some rough times. Now, I don't get down on myself if I'm in a slump because I know I'll come out of it eventually."

Although he made a verbal commitment to the University of Miami, playing in the Mariners could allow Thompson to play with his boyhood idol, Tino Martinez.

"I used to go down to the Little League field and watch him play every day I could," Thompson said of Martinez.

"I used to sit down there at West Tampa Little League and watch him hit 'em out, then I'd run after his (home run) balls."

Saladino Award winners

1971 _ Davian Menendez (Tampa Catholic); Rick Faulkner (Plant).

1972 _ Anthony Lazzara (Tampa Bay Vo-Tech); Dan Bazarth (Leto).

1973 _ Mike Heath (Hillsborough).

1974 _ Nick Ray (Robinson).

1975 _ John Shouse (Chamberlain).

1976 _ Sammy Spence (Brandon).

1977 _ Danny Pickern (Plant City).

1978 _ Lenny Faedo (Jefferson).

1979 _ Rick Figueredo (Plant).

1980 _ David Magadan (Jesuit).

1981 _ Vance Lovelace (Hillsborough).

1982 _ Richard Monteleone (Tampa Catholic).

1983 _ John Ramos (Plant).

1984 _ Chuck Donahue (Robinson).

1985 _ Tino Martinez (Jefferson).

1986 _ Gary Sheffield (Hillsborough).

1987 _ Chris Myers (Plant).

1988 _ Min Park (Leto).

1989 _ Kiki Jones (Hillsborough).

1990 _ Salvy Urso (Plant).

1991 _ Bruce Thompson (Brandon).

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