TAMPA — They’ll travel to Fort Myers for Monday afternoon’s Class 5A state semifinal in charter buses brimming with accessories, a fitting mode of transport for a fully-loaded team.
The sleek 2023 model of the Jesuit Tigers has it all. Velocity and veteran leadership. Bat speed and base-stealing proficiency. Pop and pitching depth.
Not to mention pain tolerance in bulk, courtesy of catcher Josh Hines.
“I don’t even know how he’s doing it,” veteran coach Miguel Menendez said.
For practically all of this 30-game season, Hines, 18, has observed the same ritual for Tigers home games: After batting practice, he dusts off home plate, then returns to the clubhouse to make sure his wrist tape is secure and his eye black’s well applied. Then, after strapping on his gear, he hunkers behind the plate and pushes the boundaries of medicine and mental fortitude.
Hines, who had surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee last November, has played all season with a torn left one. That’s seven innings of alternately squatting and springing up, not to mention batting and blocking the plate when warranted.
“He’s a really good, selfless teammate,” said Tigers junior Noah Sheffield, whose dad Gary belted a few homers at the big-league level. “And playing with that just shows a lot about his character. I think it’s pretty selfless.
And to this point, pretty efficient. Entering Monday’s state semifinal against Sebring, Hines — who has signed with Division II Florida Southern in Lakeland — is batting .296 with six doubles and 14 RBIs for the Tigers (26-4), who are ranked 9th nationally by MaxPreps, and are seeking their second straight state crown and third in four years (excluding 2020, when COVID shortened the season).
Defensively, he hasn’t surrendered a passed ball in two seasons. In a regular-season win against rival Tampa Catholic, he threw out all three base runners who tried to steal on him.
“I have two compression sleeves that I wear every game on both knees,” said Hines, born less than a mile from the Jesuit campus at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“It’s like, I don’t really feel anything when I’m playing, just the adrenalin going through my body; I’m not really focused on my knees. But when I get home, yeah, it throbs a little bit, but I have an ice machine that really helps take the pain away.”
Like the first meniscus tear (to the right knee), Hines can’t specify when the second one occurred. It happened at some point during a late-February event in Valdosta, Georgia, when the Tigers played Georgia high school heavyweights Parkview and Lowndes on consecutive days. Upon returning to the team hotel, the knee began throbbing and swelling.
“And that’s when I knew something was wrong with it,” Hines said. “And it was just like what happened to my right knee, so I knew immediately it was a meniscus tear.”
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Though his scholarship was already secured, rest and rehab — much less surgery — were off the table. Upon being assured by his doctor the tear wouldn’t lead to a more serious knee injury, Hines continued playing, unwilling to relinquish the chance to help his program win consecutive state crowns for the first time.
“The team this year just meant so much to me; I just felt like I had to just battle through it,” said Hines, who uses Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as his walk-up music. “It wasn’t anything to stop me from playing.”
Ultimately, his postgame routine included roughly 60 to 90 minutes attached to a machine that ran ice cold water through a tube to a brace wrapped around the knee. And while Menendez has afforded him a day off here and there, Hines has played in 27 of Jesuit’s 30 games.
In a 12-2 romp of Osceola in the 5A, Region 3 final Tuesday, Hines was among five Tigers with multiple hits.
“We just assumed he was out for the year. Like, he’s done, he’s not going to go,” said Menendez, himself a catcher at the University of Tampa in the late 1990s.
“Josh being the optimist he is kept saying, ‘Well, I’m going to go to the doctor and we’ll see what happens.’ I mean, (think of) the wear and tear on your knees when you’re healthy, much less having a fully torn meniscus. And it definitely doesn’t look like it’s really impacted him a whole lot defensively.
“I think it actually probably hurts him a little more swinging than it does catching, but it’s been unbelievable.”
Initially, surgery was slated for mid-May, but Hines told his doctor — local orthopedic sports medicine surgeon Seth Gasser — that wouldn’t work, considering the state title game is slated for Wednesday morning, the same day as Jesuit’s graduation (that evening at the Straz Center).
The procedure now is set for May 30.
“(Gasser) said, ‘You better bring me your trophy when you come in for surgery,’” Hines said. “It’s like, ‘Deal.’”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
State baseball tournament
(All games at Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers)
Plant vs. Lake Worth Park Vista, 4 p.m. Tuesday
Championship, 5 p.m. Wednesday
Winter Springs vs. Sickles, 1 p.m. Tuesday
Championship, 2 p.m. Wednesday
Sebring vs. Jesuit, 1 p.m. Monday
Championship, 11 a.m. Wednesday
Jefferson vs. Jacksonville Bishop Kenny, 4 p.m. today
Championship, 5 p.m. Saturday
Calvary Christian vs. Jacksonville Providence, 10 a.m. today
Championship, 2 p.m. Saturday