By Tamas Mondovics

At first glance, this year’s annual Saladino baseball tournament seemed very much like the previous 35 held at Brandon High School during spring break. The tournament championship final game between defending champions, Alonso Ravens, and the Steinbrenner Warriors, led by program head coach John Crumbley looking to seal the team’s first Saladino championship in school history, managed to fill the bleachers to capacity.
Team and individual championship trophies along with the usual baseball paraphernalia and tournament banners scattered all around the grounds coupled by several members of the local media, reminding everyone present that the tournament is alive and is as important to the community as ever.

However, the absence of the engine that has both propelled the week-long tournament forward each year as well as celebrated the sport by making it festive and a success over the past three-and-a-half decades, did not go unnoticed by anyone who has had a chance to taste its spirit.

The tournament’s matriarch, Bertha Saladino, who passionately came to be known as the event’s first lady, died less than two months short of the opening day ceremony, thus missing the chance to welcome the young players, friends and family, back to what has become more like a family reunion, high school baseball tourney style.

Leaving behind her husband of 52 years, Tony, and a large family, Bertha suffered a heart attack before she died—surrounded by friends and family. She was 84.

Honoring its longtime host, the 36th Annual Saladino Baseball Tournament was dedicated to a celebration of Bertha’s life, guided by her love of the game and community and fond memories.

“This week was tough to get through, but we all know that this is what she wanted,” said Tony Saladino III, Bertha’s son, who has committed to continue the community tradition with the help of longtime family friend and Bailey Elementary School Principal, Russell Wallace.

Commenting on his dad’s absence from the limelight this time, Tony emphasized that each game began with a moment of silence in memory of his mom and said, “The loss is painful and the tournament came around a bit too soon for dad to be present.”

As for the 28 teams that took part in this year’s contest, which has come down to a battle between the Ravens and the Warriors, all played each game with as much passion as it deserved.

The Ravens took a commending 4-0 lead right off the bat, giving fans the impression that the defending champions will keep the trophy. However, Warrior’s coach Crumbley, who was only a game short of a historic career win, was hungry for a personal victory and the Saladino title.

In the seventh inning, things got intense as the Warriors managed to score the tying run sending the game into three extra innings.

The game changer came in the tenth inning when the Warriors added two more runs and won the 36th Annual Saladino Tournament 6-4 over Alonso. Crumbley also got his wish as he walked away with his 700th career game win.

Summing up the emotionally charged event, Tony said, “She is still here with us and we are already talking about next year’s tournament and continuing the tradition while keep mom’s memory alive.”

For more information about the Saladino baseball tournament, visit www.tonysaladinobaseballtournament.com.