Dragon boats, Battie ready for another run, draft news and Babe Ruth success.
It's one of those weeks where there's lots of cool, smaller bits of sports news to share and not a lot of actual sports games to cover, so I'm breaking this column into sections. I'm willing to bet at least one of them will be of interest to you.
Club Crew Championships are under way
I previewed the International Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew World Championships, held this week at Nathan Benderson Park, in a more official capacity in last week's paper, but now that the event is under way, I wanted to mention it again in case you missed the preview or you need a little more to sway you to check it out.
If you have never been to a dragon boat event, it can be difficult to get a sense of how hard these athletes are pushing themselves. The answer: quite hard. I was at Benderson Park on Tuesday morning taking in a few 2,000 meter races, which see the eight to nine boats in each heat paddle up and down the park's lake on an oval course. At the end of each race, you could see the people in each boat slump a bit, taking time to breathe deep and relax their muscles before paddling back to shore. Take it from someone who has paddled in a dragon boat before: it is not easy.
The sport has a bit of a reputation for appealing to older athletes, and that is true, especially in our area, but the Club Crew Championships have divisions as young as 18U. These are top-tier athletes — approximately 2,800 of them — paddling for glory in our back yard. Best of all, admission is free. Parking on the park's Regatta Island is $15, but if you want to save that cash, you can park somewhere else and walk over. Thursday and Friday will feature 200 meter races and Saturday and Sunday will feature 500 meter races. Every day features championship races, so no matter when you go, you'll see the most important race of someone's year.
Dragon boat keeps growing in popularity the world over. This is a great chance to see what the fuss is about.
Sarasota High football alumnus earns preseason honors
Perhaps this will blow your mind as much as it did mine when I looked it up: as of July 20, the college football season starts in 38 days. Every year, it sneaks up on me, but this year it feels especially soon.
(It also means high school football is coming even sooner; be on the lookout for our season previews in a few weeks.)
But before all of that, we need to get all the preseason awards out of the way. One local alumnus, former Sarasota Sailors running back Brian Battie, has been racking them up like a deli racks up pounds of pastrami. The University of South Florida star is projected to be the All-American First Team kick returner by Athlon Sports, Phil Steele, Walter Camp and Sporting News, with more likely coming in the days and weeks ahead.
Perhaps this is not a surprise. Battie, entering his third season with the Bulls, did earn 2021 Consensus All-American status — meaning he earned first-team All-American honors on at least half of the NCAA-recognized All-American teams — after averaging 32.5 yards per kick return and taking three for touchdowns. But it is a reminder that one of the best football players in the country is from our backyard.
I don't know if the Bulls will be any good this year, but Battie will be electric to watch.
Sarasota gets another MLB draftee
Professional sports drafts are some of my favorite events of the year, every year. Seeing all the hard work athletes put into their craft pay off is what athletics is all about, at least to me. They set out with a dream of literally being the best there is and they succeeded. Getting drafted is not a guarantee of anything other than another opportunity to prove themselves. Many of them would not want it any other way.
The 2022 MLB Draft began July 17 and ran through July 19. The Baltimore Orioles took shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of former St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies great Matt Holliday, with the No. 1 overall pick; this, for Orioles fans like me, is great news. It's also great news for all baseball fans in Sarasota because you all get to watch Holliday tear up Ed Smith Stadium during Spring Training.
But that's not the only Sarasota-related note coming out of the draft. In round 15 — 461 picks after the O's took Holliday — the Milwaukee Brewers drafted former Sarasota High catcher Satchell Norman. Norman played his freshman season at Florida SouthWestern State College, a National Junior College Athletic Association school. He made quite an impression. In 52 games, Norman hit .376 at the plate, setting a FSW record, and tallied 16 doubles and 10 home runs, both of which are second in program history. Norman also made just three errors in the field.
Norman is the latest Sailors baseball alumnus in a long line of them to receive this honor; last year, outfielder Vaun Brown was drafted to the San Francisco Giants in the 10th round.
Babe Ruth 15U squad wins states, advances to regionals
The Sarasota Babe Ruth 15U All-Star baseball team advanced through the organization's state tournament in dominant fashion.
At the tournament, held July 13-17 at the Sarasota Babe Ruth fields, Sarasota went 4-0 and outscored its opponents 51-3, including a 10-0 win over Okeeheelee in the state championship game.
The team will now advance to the organization's Southeast Region tournament, held July 26-31 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Sarasota is one of eight teams in the tournament. Winning that tournament would put the team in the Babe Ruth World Series, held Aug. 11-21 in Stafford, Virginia. It's quite hard to make it that far, but never say never, especially with a team as commanding as the 15U squad was in the state tournament.
The Sarasota Babe Ruth 13U team lost its state championship game to 9-2 to Altamonte Springs, but will still advance to the Southeast Region tournament since Altamonte Springs is hosting it and gets an automatic bid. The tournament will run July 26-31.
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