The Plant City Raiders made it to all the way to the Saladino Championship game. Head Coach Mike Fryrear and PCHS Principal Susan Sullivan were there to cheer them on.

The 39th edition of the Saladino Tournament concluded over spring break. Two Bloomingdale High School players received tournament awards.

Bloomingdale first baseman Kyle Merkle was the recipient of the Jose Fernandez Passion For Baseball Award. The award was named after the Marlins All-Star pitcher and former Alonso Raven who passed away in a boating accident.

“Winning the Jose Fernandez Passion for Baseball Award made me feel honored that I was recognized for my four years of hard work and determination,” said Merkle. “It has made my whole high school experience worthwhile and I am very appreciative to have received this award.”

Merkle’s teammate and the Bulls’ outfielder, Bryce Hazzard, was given the 813Preps Iron Man Award, presented annually by founder and editor Jarrett Guthrie to a senior varsity player who has been a steady and consistent force for his team for a full four years.

“We are very proud to award our second annual 813Preps Iron Man Award to Bloomingdale senior Bryce Hazzard,” said Guthrie. “We could not hope to find a better recipient than Bryce. In his time at Bloomingdale, he has been a four-year varsity starter, but more than that, he has been an example of dedication and leadership for the Bulls.”

“It meant the world for me to win the Iron Man Award because I know how much hard work I put in each and every day, especially when no one is looking,” said Hazzard. “For me, that was a big achievement.”

The Saladino Tournament is held annually over spring break to showcase players from Hillsborough County. Tournament founder Tony Saladino got the idea to start the tournament from his late wife, Bertha Saladino, to honor Tony’s late father. Many players who have gone on to play in the MLB have played in the tournament over the years, including Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs (Plant), Fred McGriff (Jefferson), Gary Sheffield (Hillsborough), Tino Martinez (Jefferson), Dwight Gooden (Hillsborough) and Jose Fernandez (Alonso), to name a few.

Former Bloomingdale shortstop and Florida Gator Richie Martin, who is playing in his first season in the majors as the starting shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, also played in the 2012 Saladino Championship game. The Saladino is the largest spring break tournament in the country. Over 30 teams from Hillsborough County participate each year. The elimination rounds and the championship are held at Brandon High School. Every player takes pride in being a part of the tradition.

“It means a lot, it’s a very special event that I take pride in playing in every year,” said Hazzard. “It’s like one of those things for me that I can’t get enough of.”

Plant City and Durant High Schools competed in the championship game this season. Plant City came out on top 4-1, but had to forfeit the game because of a pitch count violation. On April 8, the state athletics governing body and tournament officials ruled that the tournament would have no official champion in 2019.

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.