Butch Valdes feels like he owes all the credit for Durant’s recent success to the people around him and the people who shaped who the Cougars’ coach is today. Valdes is quick to bring up his parents’ support and the things he learned as a player from Pop Cuesta while playing high school baseball for the longtime Dragons skipper at Jefferson High.
He deflects praise to his players and assistant coaches for the Cougars’ success, including reaching the Class 8A state finals a season ago. Valdes however, said he was humbled and honored to learn he was selected by the West Coast Umpires Association as this year’s Artie Vazquez Sportsmanship Award winner.
“It’s an honor to be thought of in a positive light while we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing,” Valdes said. “I’ve been very fortunate with the coaches and players we have had here at Durant.”
The Vazquez Award, named in honor of the late area umpire, is given annually during the Saladino Tournament to a Hillsborough County baseball coach. Ironically, Valdes who began as an assistant at Durant in 2004 before becoming the head coach in 2009, receives the award a year after it was presented to Cuesta.
“All I’m doing is taking what I’ve learned from the coaches I’ve had around me my whole life,” Valdes said. “I was fortunate to play for Pop Cuesta, and he showed me what a coach can offer.”
During Valdes’ tenure at Durant, the Cougars have won one district title, one region title and appeared six times in the region playoffs. The announcement from West Coast Umpires Association president Dave Stone read: “Butch was an easy choice for the sportsmanship award because his teams are always well prepared and play the game with great discipline and with a positive and sportsmanlike attitude.”
Lone shot enough for Steinbrenner’s Gordon
Steinbrenner designated hitter Cole Gordon sent a single long ball over the right-field wall at Brandon High on Friday afternoon. The shot was all it took to top the field of 12 county hitters in the home run derby.
“I didn’t think it would be enough,” Gordon said.
The senior, who had Tommy John surgery this summer, has barely missed a step at the plate, with a .400 average and three home runs so far this season.
“This has definitely been a special year for me,” Gordon said. “I thought my surgery might be a setback, but I’ve had a chance to hit and my team has supported me the whole way.”
Permuy’s first pitch at his last Saladino
The tournament program lists 34 years of ceremonial first pitch throwers, as more than 600 names offer a who’s-who of Hillsborough County public figures, celebrities and former athletes. Before Friday’s Saladino final, a familiar face took to the mound to start the game — Gaither coach Frank Permuy.
In his final season, the only coach Gaither has ever known has had a number of final hat tips, nods to the past, and in a week that seems like a class reunion for baseball coaches and officials, the first pitch made even more special for Permuy as he made the throw to childhood friend Pop Cuesta, who coached Jefferson in the final against Plant.
“I requested Pop, known him all my life,” Permuy said. “It was great, a little wide and he had to make a stab. He looked good.”
Permuy joked after his left-handed toss: “I think that’s the last throw I got in me.”
Tournament Most Valuable Player: Kyle Tucker, Plant
Catcher: Alejandro Martinez, Jefferson; First baseman: Jake Bak, Plant; Infielders: Kevin Merrell, Steinbrenner; Randy Oliva, Gaither; Logan Fernandez, Strawberry Crest; Outfielders: Ryan Anderson, Brandon; Conrado Skepple, Bloomingdale; Donnell Taylor, King; Pitchers: Mark Moclair, Strawberry Crest; Zach Rose; Designated hitter: Matt Vaka, Plant.
Echevarria Sportsmanship Award: Jefferson;
Best defensive player award: Jose Cuellar, Jefferson;
Best hitter award: Flabio Garcia, Strawberry Crest;
Home run derby winner: Cole Gordon, Steinbrenner;
Team spirit award: Newsome.