By Tamas Mondovics
The 34th annual Hillsborough County Schools Tony Saladino High School Baseball Tournament, held over spring break earlier this month, crowned the Plant High School Panthers as this year’s champion.
With a 12-game winning streak, the Panthers claimed the program’s first Saladino title since 2004 with a 4-0 win against Jefferson who sported its fourth straight Saladino final berth.
The traditional 12th annual home run derby championship, held just before the final game in which 12 players competed, went to Steinbrenner’s Cole Gordon, who won the derby by hitting one home run to left field.
From start to finish, the week-long tournament held at Brandon High School (headquarters), the University of Tampa, Jefferson High School and Chamberlain High School, satisfied baseball lovers near and far.
The real success was deservedly once again claimed by event founders, Bertha and Tony Saladino Jr., whose commitment to area students coupled with passion for the sport has been unquestionable for the past three-and-a-half decades.
The two, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, spoke passionately of the tournament they started in 1981, which honors Tony’s late father, Tony Sr.
“With football getting all the attention, it was suggested that we host a baseball tournament in the spring,” Bertha said. “I told them, you know what, it sounds like a good idea.”
Tony emphasized the tourney’s modest beginning, which has now morphed into a major annual event encompassing every high school in the county, attracting scouts and college coaches from around the country.
“We started with 11 teams and today we enjoy seeing kids from 28 teams spread out over four sites throughout the county,” Tony said.
The Saladino’s quickly acknowledged that the tournament benefits the kids in a number of ways, such as keeping players close to home and giving them a chance to be noticed by baseball scouts.
As for the tournament’s future, Tony, nearing 80, mentioned they are pleased to officially confirm the continuation of the tournament, thanks to a commitment from their son, Tony Saladino III, to carry on the tradition.
The assurance of the beloved event’s future is welcome news for all tourney lovers and supporters. Tony profoundly summed up what the success of the last 34 years truly means when he said, “This tournament is much, much bigger than you think.”
For more information about the Saladino Baseball Tournament, visit www.tonysaladinobaseballtournament.com.