By Tamas Mondovics

The annual Saladino Baseball Tournament, one of the community’s most treasured high school sporting events that brings together area teams for the past 35 years, will never be the same after the loss of its matriarch, Bertha Saladino. The pillar and inspiration of the Hillsborough County baseball community suffered a heart attack and died surrounded by friends and family at Brandon Regional Hospital on Sunday, January 24. She was 84.

She is survived by her husband of 52 years, Tony Saladino; sons Tony Saladino III (Cheryl) and Thom Rodgers (Debi); daughters Misty Saladino Feist (Todd), Bette Nunez, and Linda Trujillo; 15 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren; nephews and nieces, and pet cat, Fluffy.

Bertha may have left behind a large family, but she was also a friend to many more within the community who can hardly imagine another event without her warm smile, zeal for the young athletes and tireless effort to make sure everyone was well fed and cared for.

Her ability to make anyone feel like part of her family led to her affectionately being called “The First Lady of Baseball,” “Hospitality Hostess Extraordinaire,” and “Matriarch of the Saladino Family, Friends and Community.”

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1931 as an American citizen, Bertha came to the U.S. at the age of 20. She met Tony Saladino Jr. in 1962, a year after Tony’s father had died. The two were married the following year.

Thanks to Bertha’s huge heart, love for her family and community, and encouragement to memorialize Tony’s dad, the Tony Saladino High School Spring Baseball Tournament was born. “With football getting all the attention, it was suggested that we host a baseball tournament in the spring,” Bertha said in an interview during last year’s tourney, adding, “I told them, you know what, it sounds like a good idea. We can do this. And that was it.”

Since its beginning in 1981, the tournament has morphed into a major annual event now encompassing 28 Hillsborough County high schools bringing fans, family, athletes, reporters along with scouts and college coaches from around the country together in a one of a kind family-oriented setting.

The event was no short of a great family reunion, and as host she made sure everyone enjoyed themselves and was well fed. There is little doubt the tournament will go on this spring as it should, and as Bertha would have wanted. She will be greatly missed by all.

The Saladino Golf Scramble is scheduled for 12 Noon on Sunday, February 28 at the Bloomingdale Golfers Club. The $90 fee includes golf, range balls, prizes and meal. Call (863) 670-1736 for info or to sponsor. Visit www. tonysaladinobaseballtournament.com.