TAMPA — Talent often leads the way, but research can be as big a part of a team’s success as anything. So when second-year Carrollwood Day baseball coach Nick Rodriguez was looking through the CDS student body, a name caught his eye.
It wasn’t a potential player who might have slipped through the cracks, but rather a parent’s name that struck a chord with Rodriguez. A little research led to the grandfather of a Carrollwood Day pre-schooler, and Rodriguez reached out to the retired member of the Patriots’ extended family.
It has paid off, as 12-year major-league veteran and three-time All-Star Dave Cash has given a tremendous lift to the Patriots this season.
“I was kind of joking and said to him, ‘Listen, we’re always looking for help, and even though I’ve been coaching for 10-plus years, I still consider myself a young coach who needs to learn, and any time you could come out would be great,’” Rodriguez said. “He’s one of the nicest guys in the world and just oozes baseball knowledge, and he hasn’t missed a day yet.”
Rodriguez and his coaches have made steady improvements in the two years since he took over the program, and this season the Patriots are 10-8 and in third place in a tight Class 3A-District 7 race. Carrollwood Day, which defeated Shorecrest Prep 4-1 on Wednesday, is looking for its first winning season after going 12-13 the past two years.
Rodriguez said he and the program are fortunate to have Cash on board.
“He’s working directly with my hitters and middle infielders,” Rodriguez said. “On my end, he’s a godsend because you preach to your kids to listen and learn, and the knowledge and terminology of this guy is truly outstanding.”
“For my kids, it’s been three months of listening to one of the better minds in baseball. Heck, this guy played with (Roberto) Clemente, and it’s been absolutely amazing.”
Cash, 65, was a second baseman and won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. He made three straight All-Star appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1974-76 and later coached for 20 years at the professional level.
He said he couldn’t resist giving back to his grandson’s school and a young program playing only its fifth full baseball season.
“My grandson is just heading into kindergarten, so I plan to be here a while, and maybe I can make it until he’s playing,” Cash said. “You have to teach these kids the right way to play the game. They are just going out there and swinging, and you have to teach them to go from thinking about themselves to thinking about the team.”
Cash’s experience made an immediate impact on the team, as the players are drawn to the former major-leaguer.
“Having that kind of knowledge around every day is really incomparable,” senior Jack Syron said. “Coming from him, the knowledge is a completely different, eye-opening experience.”
Carrollwood Day hung tough in two losses to district-leading Tampa Prep this season but slipped up in big losses to Bishop McLaughlin in two regular-season meetings. For Syron, who has a career .340 batting average over five varsity seasons with CDS, consistency is something he knows he and his teammates need to work on.
He cited the team’s tendency to get too excited and not focus on the job at hand.
“We’re a big roller-coaster team,” Syron said. “I think we need to not get as excited as we have for some of those games. We go in there with the mindset that we have to win these games, instead of just playing it, and if we lose an inning, we need to stop letting that bring down the whole game.”