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2002 Knights ditch losing tradition

The players make no bones about it: The past few years, Robinson's baseball team lacked discipline, leadership, work ethic, hope and "And just about everything," shortstop Steven Sentlinger said. "We came to practice with our shirts hanging out and we'd show up late and goof off."

And it showed.

The Knights won three regular-season games last year, won less than 20 the previous five seasons combined, and had one season in which they won zero.

So what has happened to the Knights this season? They're 9-5 with victories over perennial powers Jesuit and Tampa Catholic _ in the same week!

Yes, this team has plenty of talent, but the place to start is with first-year head coach Greg Suazo, a 31-year-old who loves burning the candle at both ends.

Suazo has, in no particular order:

Helped reconstruct a portable classroom slated for demolition into a clubhouse, complete with a new refrigerator, freezer, lights, toilet, hand-made lockers, showers, artificial turf floor and pictures of key victories (most notably Jesuit) hung on the walls.

Kicked former high-caliber athletes off the team for not following team rules, including base-stealing terror Kwane Doster, who signed a football scholarship to play for Vanderbilt. Doster was listed as a possible pick in the major-league draft by some scouting services.

Helped pour a 15-foot by 60-foot cement slab in the batting cage.

Raised money to erect a new green netting and yellow pad on the outfield fence.

Spent countless hours and "at least $2,000 out of my own pocket," upgrading the field.

Placed positive signs, such as, "Do the Little Things, Today and Every Day," on walls.

Gotten more than 10 business sponsors, who hang signs on the outfield fence.

Enforced a dress code of pressed shirts and ties to school on game days, and applied strict practice and uniform attire (Keep those shirts tucked in, belts buckled and socks pulled up!).

Turned Robinson into one of the favorites to win this week's Tony Saladino Tournament.

"Why have I done this?" Suazo said. "I've done this because I love baseball and I love coaching.

"I've been involved with baseball my whole life (played at Melbourne High and attempted to walk on at Florida State).

"I just had to be a part of the game and I had to put my heart and soul into it. Just had to."

This is Suazo's first head coaching job after assistant stints at Tallahassee Leon and Belle Glade Glades Central, but his players have no doubts about their first-year leader.

"Last year, we basically felt like a bunch of Little Leaguers," third baseman John Esposito said. "And now, just a year later, we feel like we're a step above the rest."

And they could really prove it this week.

"Last year, we thought we had a realistic chance to win one game at Saladino, and then it was off to the beach," said pitcher David Koons, who comes in 4-0.

"This time, we think we have a realistic chance to win the thing."