Another summer week, another lack of live sports to cover in Sarasota.
Luckily this is changing soon as youth All-Star baseball teams take the field this week and things such as the IFDB Dragon Boat Club Crew Championships hit Nathan Benderson Park next month. But for now, I bring you news and notes from the edges of the Sarasota sports scene, which include some college athletes you should drive to see, a big-time high schooler making a big-time move and an update on a baseball alum finding success in an unlikely place.
FGCL softball features a familiar face
In recent summers, one of my favorite things to do is take in a few games of Florida Gulf Coast League softball action. Unlike the FGCL's summer baseball league, which plays games at multiple locations up and down the Gulf Coast, the FGCL softball teams all play at one location. Last year, all the games were at the Miss Sarasota Softball Complex. This year, they are at G.T. Bray Park in Bradenton. It is a little bit of a drive, yes, but I think it is worth it.
Not only is the league filled with some of the premier softball talent in the country — including from 2022 NCAA National Champion Oklahoma and runner-up Texas — but some of it is local. Riverview High alum Holley Peluso, a rising junior at Florida Atlantic, is on the Anna Maria Aquanauts. Through four games, Peluso has just one hit, but it was an RBI double. I am confident her offensive output will increase as the summer season goes along.
If any Sarasota readers are aware of the machine that is Lakewood Ranch High softball — they have won back-to-back state championships — four former Mustangs (Florida's Avery Goelz, Clemson's McKenzie Clark, Duke's Claire Davidson and Southern Illinois' Emma Anthony) have reunited on the Lakewood Ranch Rodeo, adding another interesting wrinkle to the league.
FGCL softball games are free to attend and I suggest you do so. They are high-level action and because they carry somewhat lower stakes than an NCAA game, you can tell the players are enjoying themselves out there. It's infectious.
A full schedule can be found on the league's phone app, simply called Florida Gulf Coast League, or at FGCLsoftball.com.
Jamier Jones makes his move
It always seemed like it was a difficult ask, hoping Riverview High boys basketball would hang onto prized prospect Jamier Jones.
The rising sophomore is ranked No. 7 on ESPN's top-25 list of the 2025 national class. Jones will have every blue blood NCAA program asking for his commitment by the time he's ready to do so. There are plenty of high schools, many outside of Florida, who make their bread on turning prospects like Jones — highly talented and athletic but a bit unrefined in the details of the game— into well-rounded superstars. It is difficult for a public high school like Riverview to compete with that, no matter how good the Rams' program has been. That task became even more difficult when Rams Coach Rudy Fraraccio stepped down following the 2021-2022 season.
As of this week, Jones is indeed on the move from Riverview, which I'm sure is disappointing to Rams fans but makes sense for Jones. There is good news, however: you'll still be able to watch him play if you want; he's not going far.
Jones announced June 17 on his Twitter page that he'll be heading to IMG Academy. The Ascenders are one of the premier programs in the nation. They get people where they want to go, which in most cases is the elite level of college basketball. In the 2022 NCAA March Madness tournament, 18 former IMG players took the court. If I had to guess, I think Jones will be part of that list once he reaches college. As I have said in this space before, his highlights are incredible. It was a treat to watch him get the Riverview crowd on its feet each game. I'll miss that. But I'll also likely get to write a story on his commitment to a massive college program in the relatively near future. That sounds fun, too.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Rams, either. New Riverview coach Kendall Ellis, who comes from the AAU circuit, will still have Texas Tech commit Jason Jackson to work with as he attempts to instill his culture on the program.
Casey Kelly continues dominance in KBO
I remain fascinated with the story of Casey Kelly and his second chance at a baseball life.
If you don't know, Kelly is a former Sarasota High pitcher who was picked in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox. Kelly was expected to do big things in the MLB. He was the centerpiece of the trade that sent All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Boston from the San Diego Padres after the 2010 season. Kelly never lived up to his lofty expectations; after going through Tommy John surgery in 2012, he appeared in 26 total MLB games with the Padres, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants, holding a career ERA of 5.46.
After being granted free agency following the 2018 season, Kelly opted to try his luck in the Korea Baseball Organization League, known as the KBO. He signed with the LG Twins in 2019 and has not looked back. Kelly holds a 2.93 career ERA in the KBO. The 2022 season is his best year yet; as of June 22, Kelly is 8-1 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. He has struck out 68 batters and walked just 16.
Best of all, the KBO fans seem to love Kelly. On March 25, Kelly posted a video to his Instagram page showing off a food and drink cart that an LG Twins fan group had purchased for him. The cart has a sign that says "Kellybucks" and feature's Kelly's face photoshopped into the iconic Starbucks logo, among other signs. On the right side is a poster of Kelly that reads "We always support you" in English along with some Korean writing.
"Wow! Thank you fans. I feel so much love today," Kelly wrote in the video's caption.
Sports fans, myself included, have the tendency to think of the American sports leagues as the be-all, end-all of success. If someone burns out of MLB, they failed. But that's not true. Kelly is proof of that. Anyone who is able to make a living doing what they love (and earn love back) is a success in my book.
Good for Kelly for making the most of his opportunity.