Baseball Preview: Santa Fe Benefitting From New Coach's Guidance
Sun. February 17, 2013 at 3:23 a.m. | By Bill Kemp
Santa Fe baseball players Evan Barnes, left, and Alex Dry are just two of the 15 total members of the Crimson Hawks' team under new head coach David Saliba. (Photo by SCOTT WHEELER | THE LEDGER)
LAKELAND | There were several head coaching changes heading into the 2013 prep baseball season but the most noticeable may be at Santa Fe Catholic.
David Saliba takes control of the Hawks after 29 seasons at Winter Haven where he amassed a 583-289 record. Santa Fe finished 9-14 last year under Steve Beach and Chris Nattania.
During his Blue Devils' tenure, Saliba produced two state runner-up teams, groomed three players for the Major Leagues and led more than 150 players to the collegiate level.
"I'm not interested in talking about me," Saliba said. "I just want it to be about the kids."
There are more noticeable changes around the Santa Fe baseball facilities. Four new light poles and lights were added as a result of a matching grant from the MLB Baseball Tomorrow Fund.
"The lights are good. A developmental staff got the matching grant," Saliba said.
Additionally, a new infield was planted and the outfield scoreboard was replaced.
"It was a weed infield," Saliba said. "When I got here there wasn't any grass on the field, so we put in a new infield. We got it playable. It's one of the best fields in the county as far as the trees in the background; it's a hitter's hit. The new scoreboard came from Pepsi. There was a Pepsi scoreboard out there but it was damaged during a storm last year, so they went ahead and replaced it for us."
Following the field revitalization, Saliba faced the challenges of fielding his first Hawks team.
"We were dealing with a seven-man roster because of basketball," said Saliba, who has seen the roster grow to 15 players since basketball season concluded.
"When we first got here we looked for anyone who looked like they could play baseball. We looked for anyone who grabbed anything left-handed," Saliba said.
"We inherited some good kids. We are working everyday on fundamentals. We've always taught the game the same way, and when you get done with us you can go and play somewhere else."
Saliba said the biggest obstacle was getting the pitching staff in shape. Evan Barnes will anchor the staff and the senior got off to a solid start in Santa Fe's opener when he fired a two-hit complete-game shutout against All Saints' Academy, winning 7-0 on Feb. 12.
"Evan is an outstanding ballplayer and has some offers," Saliba said. "The biggest obstacle is getting pitchers in shape when they've played another sport. If the weather stays good we can get a lot done."
Jake Brown, a junior, will add the southpaw punch Saliba was looking for on the mound. Sophomore Bruno DeZayas and freshman Zach Scott will round out the rotation with senior Chandler Hansen seeing plenty of action out of the bullpen.
Hansen said he had big expectations when he heard Saliba was coming to Santa Fe and he's been impressed ever since his arrival.
"I knew he was a very well-known coach, one of the best in Florida," Hansen said. "In practice everything is at game speed and everything has a purpose. Last year, you hit, fielded some balls and went home. Now people are working on situations and everything is live and simulated."
Barnes, who will also see action at catcher and shortstop, said he's also upbeat about the changes.
"I'll play wherever coach needs me," he said. "I was a little anxious because we were getting a new coach. It wasn't as well organized as it is now. The new infield is perfect and the hops come off it real good. Now people are coming up and saying, ‘How's coach, how's practice?' Everything is uplifting and exciting."
Saliba is also investing in the future while hoping for some immediate returns. He has Scott, just a freshman, starting at shortstop.
"He's rangy with a good arm. He has all he tools. He just has to keep maturing," Saliba said, and added the program and school are trying to build a "Stanford-like" atmosphere.
"If you're in this business then you are in it for the kids. We're going to teach them how to win and have some fun."