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  1. Sports
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Tampa Bay baseball icon Tony Saladino finds field of dreams outside his front door

The founder of the bay area’s most heralded prep spring break tournament now has the neighborhood’s most heralded yard.
Tony Saladino, local baseball icon and founder of the annual spring break Saladino Baseball Tournament, stands on his new front lawn. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]

His nationally heralded high school baseball tournament, set to celebrate its 40th anniversary this month, has joined the staggering list of coronavirus casualties.

“It will not be held this year; it’s impossible,” Tony Saladino said Monday. “We don’t know when this thing’s gonna end. … Our 40th year will be next year.”

For an 84-year-old widower who still spends most of the calendar year’s waking moments planning the sprawling spring-break event, the cancellation has left him somber, for many reasons. But when the doldrums really start bearing down on him, Tony can find a degree of solace right outside his front door.

The man whose modest, 57-year-old Brandon home has evolved into a veritable baseball shrine on the inside now has an outside to match. His front yard has been transformed into a baseball field — a 630-square-foot replica, to be exact — created from synthetic turf.

“It is amazing,” Tony said. “People are stopping by to look.”

For the first time in 40 years, Tony Saladino didn't have his annual high school baseball tournament to look forward to. The event was canceled last week due to coronavirus concerns. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

The field is the handiwork of ForeverLawn of Tampa Bay owner Chris Powell, whose outfit also installed synthetic turf athletic fields at St. Petersburg High and Sligh Middle School, and has put in “K9Grass” at the downtown Tampa dog parks.

Tony reached out to Powell at the suggestion of stepdaughter, Linda Trujillo, and longtime friend Lois Ruth, both of whom regularly help him manage his front yard. Powell’s fee? Nothing.

“We do some different community things, and that was what we wanted to do for him,” Powell said.

“It was before the tournament was canceled, and I was gonna be throwing out one of the first pitches and he was gonna give us some signage there. … I knew we’d get some mileage out of it, but it was also that I just loved his idea and I thought it would be fun to do.”

The finished product brought Tony to tears. So will the formal dedication, whenever it occurs.

“We’re gonna call it the Bertha Saladino Field,” said Tony, referring to his wife of 52 years who passed away in 2016. They were married in this house, by the way. “I’ve got a sign to put up yet.”