TAMPA — USF baseball fans making the two-hour interstate trek north this morning for the Bulls' first NCAA tournament game since 2002 can count on at least three certainties.
The weather will be sticky, the Bulls will wear green and Levi Borders will be catching.
Not convinced? Fine, we'll see your cynicism and raise you a stone-cold lock: Forget about the weather and the Bulls' wardrobe, but bet the farm on the farm boy.
As sure as the sun crouches behind the western horizon, Borders, raised on a 500-acre Polk County ranch with eight siblings, will crouch behind home plate today.
The junior has started all 58 games at catcher this season. Luke, his younger brother by 15 months, has started all 58 as designated hitter.
"That's unheard of (for a catcher)," Bulls coach Mark Kingston said. "Every day I joke with (Levi), 'Do you need a day off today?' And he always laughs and says, 'No way.' "
To know the Borders bloodline is to know dormancy isn't in the siblings' blood. Their father, Pat, caught in the majors until he was nearly 43, winning World Series MVP honors (.450, one home run) with the Blue Jays in 1992. He then retreated to the family spread on Lake Wales' far eastern fringe, where he and his wife, Kathy, raised — or are raising — nine kids, ranging in age from 24 to 2.
Life with the Borders nine — much like the Bulls nine — featured no off-days. Not with fences to mend, floors to vacuum and critters of all sizes — horses to hens — to feed.
"From an early age, with that many siblings and that much to take care of on a farm, there's no choice," Kathy Borders said. "Everyone has to pull their weight, otherwise it's true chaos.
"I can remember one day coming home from the grocery store … and they all were helping paint the fence; and not with a sprayer, but with brushes and rollers.
"Stuff like that, if it's not done, then it just gets too out of hand. They have to pull their weight."
Fuse the farm life with a little DNA and you've got an indefatigable backstop whose arm and offensive pop make him a likely early to mid-round draft choice.
"I've never seen a collegiate catcher catch 50 or 60 games in a row," Bulls senior shortstop Kyle Teaf said. "That's just a testament to his conditioning and his strength, and what he's been for us has been huge. Going out there every day knowing every single day you've got a solid backstop back there is a game-changer."
A unanimous first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick, Borders (6 feet 3, 205 pounds) has thrown out 25 of 71 base runners this season, including the first four who tried to steal on him at last week's AAC tournament in Clearwater. A .295 hitter, he leads the Bulls (33-24-1) in home runs (nine), RBIs (44) and slugging percentage (.498).
In a doubleheader at Memphis, he caught all 18 innings.
"Catching's a rough position," Levi Borders said. "It takes a lot of hard work and toughness, and my dad's a hard-nosed guy. That's how he raised us ever since we were little — respect, hard work, toughness, get after it. So I guess that correlates."
So does this: Like his father, who converted to catcher after realizing he wouldn't remain in the big leagues as an infielder, Levi didn't play behind the plate until his senior year at Winter Haven High. At that point, Pat was helping coach the Blue Devils.
"I don't know. It just kind of happened," said Kathy, who coached the boys herself in Little League. "It never really was, 'Hey, I want you to be a catcher.' It was never like that at all."
It just seems that way. The catcher has evolved into a cornerstone. Soon, he might be evolving from farm life to a farm system.
"He throws guys out, he blocks every ball that should be blocked," Kingston said. "We're just very lucky to have him as our catcher. When you think of Levi, everything you can think of is positive."