As Dixie Youth League Baseball celebrates its 58th season, the groundbreaking for a new generation of players continues to ripple across the local level.
Case in point: Spring Hill, in its 19th year of existence, will be the first Hernando County program to participate in a Dixie Baseball O-Zone AAA Majors (ages 11-12) State Tournament.
The 10-team field in the eighth annual event will open today with five games at Aldine Combee Park in Lakeland, and is expected to feature: Hardee County, Lake Placid, Liberty County, Marianna, Port St. Joe, Sebring, Spring Hill American, West Seminole American, West Volusia and host East Lakeland.
The four-time defending champion is Sebring.
The event is expected to wrap-up Thursday (weather permitting) with the state champ representing Florida in the Aug. 3-8 World Series in Laurel, Miss.
The Spring Hill American AAA Majors All-Stars feature: 2B/SS/P/C Kameron Drew, OF/2B/P/C Henry Fernandez, 2B/3B/OF Justin Fribbley, 2B/OF Sean Fribbley, C/P/3B/OF Jaylon Fuzz, 1B/2B/OF Kyle Kolodziej, OF/C/2B Jackson McLaughlin, P/C/1B/OF Noah McKinney, OF/P/C Chris Neilson, 3B/P Chris Reckner, 2B/SS/P/C Sam Roush and P/SS/C/1B Hailey Smith.
SH American will be led by Tom Smith. Smith will be assisted by Chuck Fribbley and Scott McKinney.
SH American's personnel have impressed Coach Smith since Day 1.
"Most of this team has the heart for the game. They'll risk life and limb to make a play," stressed Coach Smith. "To me, that's what it takes to separate the serious players from imposters.
"I also think we have some speed and overall it's a pretty balanced squad," added Smith. "We're not top-heavy in any one category. We've also got a bunch of kids that operate well on the fly; they have some baseball savvy."
On his team's offensive identity, "This team is basically my travel ball team," noted Coach Smith. "We've got a lot of smashers on board. Hitting really is contagious. If we're not smashing the ball by the third inning with this group, it's not happening."
In the arms race, Coach Smith's lone concern is lack of any left-handed pitchers.
"Our entire staff is all righties," pointed out Coach Smith. "What I like most? Nothing rattles these guys. I would not have any qualms using McKinney, Hailey, Fuzz, Reckner, Neilson or even Roush.
"Our top two pitchers include McKinney and Hailey," added Coach Smith. "McKinney has a nice curveball and can go deep into games. Hailey's strength is her awesome control. She throws 63 mph and carries a nasty curveball. She's like a surgeon out there."
SH American opens the tourney at 3 p.m. against Liberty County.
"Most of this group has played travel ball with me for almost two years," pointed out Coach Smith. "I don't think we'll see any stage fright. I can only assume some of the players we're going to face also play at the travel ball level."
"We're definitely going into states with our guard up," declared Coach Smith on his team's entry into unchartered territory. "Our approach is to make every player on our team a better player. I hope we're prepared for what's in store."
What - 8th annual Dixie Baseball O-Zone AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars State Tournament.
Who - Ten teams in a double-elimination format featuring: Hardee County, Lake Placid, Liberty County, Marianna, Port St. Joe, Sebring, Spring Hill American, West Seminole American, West Volusia and host East Lakeland. Four-time defending champion is Sebring.
Where - Aldine Combee Park, 1140 Fish Hatchery Road, Lakeland
When - July 13-18 (weather permitting).
At Stake - State champion represents Florida in Aug. 3-8 O-Zone AAA Majors World Series in Laurel, Miss.
By the Numbers: Past O-Zone AAA Majors All-Stars (ages 11-12) State Champions (2006-12)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
2007 West Volusia American
2008 West Volusia American
2013 Spring Hill American O-Zone AAA Majors (ages 11-12) All-Stars
10 Hailey Smith* P/SS/C/1B
14 Kameron Drew 2B/SS/P/C
20 Noah McKinney P/C/1B/OF
22 Kyle Kolodziej 1B/2B/OF
23 Jackson McLaughlin OF/C/2B
24 Henry Fernandez OF/2B/P/C
34 Justin Fribbley 2B/3B/OF
* Denotes returning 2012 All-Star
Assistant Coach - Chuck Fribbley
Assistant Coach - Scott McKinney