A year ago, a high school spring break scheduled late in the year threatened a Hillsborough County sports staple.
The usual week-long Saladino Baseball Tournament was forced to split its schedule, was spread out over two months, but still managed to go ahead with its unusual format.
"Last year ended well," tournament founder Tony Saladino said. "We had a different go around, a little vacation but we worked it out."
This year, spring break has returned to March and so to has the Saladino Tournament to its normal format.
"This year we're going again in spring break," Saladino said. "We're back in style."
The 32nd annual edition of the tournament returns Saturday as 28 Hillsborough County teams will compete in pool-play action to reach next Friday's tournament final hosted at Brandon.
The six-day event will start at four locations — Brandon, Jefferson and Riverview High Schools as well as the University of Tampa — condensing to just Brandon starting with the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
What started as a tribute to his father has, through the years, evolved into a family affair with Saladino and his wife, Bertha, visiting with friends and strangers alike.
"This tournament started as a memorial for my father," Saladino said. "But it's much, much more now. It's a part of spring for us, we get to keep our kids busy and out of that spring break trouble.
"The tournament is even bigger than we think it is sometimes for these kids. We have those underdog stories all the time and anything can happen in this tournament."
The tournament has long featured that playoff atmosphere with no better example than last season when Newsome entered the final weekend with a 6-6 record and won the tournament title defeating a favored Jefferson, 2-1.
A number of the tournament's alumni have gone on to success at the major league level including Dwight Gooden (Hillsborough), Tino Martinez (Jefferson), Fred McGriff (Jefferson) and Gary Sheffield (Hillsborough), as well as current major leaguers like the Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce, the Minnesota Twins' Denard Span and the Seattle Mariners' Chone Figgins.
The tournament has also been the proving ground for 19 first-round picks including the 2011 Tampa Tribune's player of the year Jose Fernandez of Alonso, who was selected 14th overall by the Miami Marlins.
The tournament's headquarters located in trailers behind Brandon's Don Powell Field hosts a variety of extras as the weeklong event prides itself on being a family-friendly sporting event and history lesson. The tournament includes a number of displays about the tournaments history and success stories, as well as recognizing the legacy of baseball in the community.
Next Friday will start with the tournament's home run derby at 4:30 followed by the championship final at 7 p.m.
Pool A – Durant, Plant City, Spoto, Strawberry Crest
Pool B – Bloomingdale, Brandon, Leto, Middleton
Pool C – Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Wharton
Pool D – Brooks-DeBartolo, King, Robinson, Steinbrenner
Pool E – Blake, East Bay, Freedom, Plant
Pool F – Armwood, Lennard, Newsome, Riverview
Pool G – Alonso, Gaither, Sickles, Tampa Bay Tech
At Brandon – Plant City vs. Strawberry Crest, 10 a.m.; Spoto vs. Durant, 1 p.m.; Leto vs. Bloomingdale, 4 p.m.; Middleton vs. Brandon, 7 p.m.
At Jefferson – Brooks-DeBartolo vs. Steinbrenner, 10 a.m.; Robinson vs. King, 1 p.m.; Hillsborough vs. Wharton, 4 p.m.; Chamberlain vs. Jefferson, 7 p.m.
At Riverview – Blake vs. Plant, 10 a.m.; East Bay vs. Freedom, 1 p.m.; Armwood vs. Newsome, 4 p.m.; Lennard vs. Riverview, 7 p.m.
At University of Tampa – Sickles vs. Gaither, 1 p.m.; Tampa Bay Tech vs. Alonso, 4 p.m.
At Brandon – Durant vs. Plant City, 10 a.m.; Strawberry Crest vs. Spoto, 1 p.m.; Middleton, 4 p.m.; Brandon vs. Leto, 7 p.m.
At Jefferson – Steinbrenner vs. Robinson, 10 a.m.; King vs. Brooks-DeBartolo, 1 p.m.; Wharton vs. Chamberlain, 4 p.m.; Jefferson vs. Hillsborough, 7 p.m.
At Riverview – Plant vs. East Bay, 10 a.m.; Freedom vs. Blake, 1 p.m.; Newsome vs. Lennard, 4 p.m.; Riverview vs. Armwood, 7 p.m.
At University of Tampa – Sickles vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 1 p.m.; Alonso vs. Sickles, 4 p.m.
At Brandon – Strawberry Crest vs. Durant, 10 a.m.; Spoto vs. Plant City, 1 p.m.; Leto vs. Middleton, 4 p.m.; Bloomingdale vs. Brandon, 7 p.m.
At Jefferson – King vs. Steinbrenner, 10 a.m.; Brooks-DeBartolo vs. Robinson, 1 p.m.; Chamberlain vs. Hillsborough, 4 p.m.; Wharton vs. Jefferson, 7 p.m.
At Riverview – Freedom vs. Plant, 10 a.m.; Blake vs. East Bay, 1 p.m., Lennard vs. Armwood, 4 p.m.; Newsome vs. Riverview, 7 p.m.
At University of Tampa – Tampa Bay Tech vs. Sickles, 1 p.m.; Gaither vs. Alonso, 4 p.m.
Quarterfinals at Brandon
Wild card vs. Pool G, 10 a.m.
Pool E vs. Pool F, 1 p.m.
Pool D vs. Pool C, 4 p.m.
Pool A vs. Pool B, 7 p.m.
Semifinals at Brandon
Pool E-F winner vs. Wild card-Pool G winner, 4 p.m.
Pool D-C winner vs. Pool A-B winner, 7 p.m.
Championship at Brandon
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.