When the Saladino Baseball Tournament started in 1981, there were 11 Hillsborough County public school teams and all the games were played at Brandon High.
“How beautiful that was," Tony Saladino Sr. said. “Then we went to two sites, then four sites and here we are now."
The tournament has certainly grown since Hillsborough won the first championship. At one point there were 32 teams playing at four sites throughout the county. Normally the field has been 28 teams playing in seven pools. The winner of each pool, along with a wild card, would advance to the quarterfinals.
That’s basically been the format for the first 40 years. But when the Florida High School Athletic Association changed its system of ranking teams for postseason play this season, the Saladino Tournament changed as well.
For the first time there will be 24 teams broken into two divisions. The top 16 teams, based on MaxPreps rankings from last year, will play in the Gold Division. The next eight teams will be in the Silver Division.
Action begins Saturday at four sites: Brandon, King, Lennard and Jefferson. Teams are seeded and will play in a bracket format. All teams are guaranteed four games. Each bracket will have a champion.
In the past, teams were only guaranteed three games, with the two teams in the final playing six. Another difference is that the tournament will now end Wednesday instead of Friday.
“The coaches were more interested in two things," said Tony Saladino Jr., who now organizes the tournament. “One was that everybody play the same number of games, which is four. Two, they wanted to play like opponents. It doesn’t do any good to play a lesser team and win. It’s actually better to play a better team and lose."
The tournament seedings were done prior to the start of the season. That left Saladino and his staff to go off of the MaxPreps rankings from the previous season. Even though Jesuit is the third-ranked team in the nation, they are seeded second in the tournament behind Plant City. The Raiders won the Saladino Tournament last season on their way to a state championship.
“I think one of the changes I wouldn’t mind seeing is take the rankings from two weeks before the tournament and use those," Plant City coach Mike Fryrear said. “But I do like it in general. I think it will be a lot harder to win it this year than in the past."
Because there is no pool play in the Gold Division, there should be competitive games from the start. If a team loses, it is not able to win the title. It will take four straight wins to earn the championship in both divisions.
“You’re not going to have any of those 10-run games," Saladino Jr. said. “Every game is going to be a dog fight. I think that’s one thing this format will do. There should be a lot of really good games."
Saladino said there will likely be tweaks to the tournament as it moves on. One that he mentioned was starting on Monday and playing three straight days. The final in both divisions may be played Thursday so those games can stand alone.
Also, teams could be moved from the Gold Division to the Silver Division and vice versa depending on rankings.
One thing that doesn’t change is the importance of having a pitching staff. Playing four games in five days is unusual during a high school season, which has always made the Saladino Tournament prestigious for Hillsborough teams.
“It’s one of those tournaments you want to win," Fryrear said. “You have to have depth. And those first two games are the biggest. You have to win those. It’s just a very beneficial tournament for Hillsborough County.’’
Saladino Baseball Tournament
Saturday: at King: No. 8 Strawberry Crest vs. No. 9 Newsome, 4; No. 1 Plant City vs. No. 16 Gaither, 7; at Lennard: No. 6 Leto vs. No. 11 Wharton, 4; No. 5 Plant vs. No. 12 Lennard, 7; at Brandon: No. 3 Bloomingdale vs. No. 14 Alonso, 4; No. 4 Durant vs. No. 13 Steinbrenner, 7; at Jefferson: No. 7 Riverview vs. No. 10 Sickles, 4; No. 2 Jesuit vs. No. 15 Jefferson, 7
Monday: Loser’s and winner’s bracket games, 4 and 7 p.m. at all four sites
Tuesday: Consolation and semifinal games, 4 and 7 p.m. at all four sites
Wednesday: Championship, 8 p.m. at Brandon
*After Saturday’s games, teams will be re-seeded and Monday’s schedule will be released. Find it here.
All games 1 p.m. Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
Saturday: at Jefferson: No. 8 Carrollwood Day vs. No. 5 Freedom; at King: No. 4 King vs. No. 1 Armwood; at Brandon: No. 7 Brandon vs. No. 6 East Bay; at Lennard: No. 3 Hillsborough vs. No. 2 Robinson
Monday: at Jefferson: Freedom vs. Armwood; at King: Carrollwood Day vs. King; at Brandon: Brandon vs. Robinson; at Lennard: East Bay vs. Hillsborough
Tuesday: at Jefferson: Carrollwood Day vs. Armwood; at King: Freedom vs. King; at Brandon: Brandon vs. Hillsborough; at Lennard: East Bay vs. Robinson
Wednesday: Final at Brandon, 5. Sites and times for consolation games to be determined.