timberland sandal American Heritage Has Hardball Stars
By Stephen SpiewakWhen highly coveted junior shooting guard Kenny Boynton decided to enroll at American Heritage (Fla.) late last summer, everyone knew that, along with Patriots center Eloy Vargas, the small Florida school would have two of the finest basketball players in the country.
Practically no one knew that when Eric Hosmer and Adrian Nieto decided to enroll at American Heritage five years ago as eighth graders, the Patriots would boast two of the most talented baseball players in the nation.
Now with their senior seasons underway, both Hosmer, a 6 foot 5, 215 pound first baseman/closer, and Nieto, a switch hitting catcher with power from both sides of the plate, are All Americans hoping to lead the Patriots to a state championship.
For head coach Todd Fitzgerald, it wasn’t always obvious that he was coaching two of the nation’s best.
“He was a short, squatty kid when he got here in the eighth grade,” Fitzgerald said of Hosmer. “We do a serious conditioning program here in November. His first year he ran a 9:30 mile. The following year, he grew four inches and dropped his time to 6:45. He’s really matured into his body.”
What Hosmer grew into was a powerful hitter and shut down closer who is the two time reigning Miami Herald state player of the year and the fourth ranked baseball player in the country by Baseball America.
“We all knew he was going to be good,” Fitzgerald said. “We just didn’t know he was going to be that tall or that good.”
Having grown to 6 5 has enabled the southpaw to be a real presence on the mound, coming in to close games for the Patriots.
“We try to minimize the game to five innings,” Fitzgerald said. “We feel that if we get through five, then with him, we have it under control.”
Hosmer is best known for his bat. Last season he hit .380 with nine homers, a year after a sophomore campaign where he had a breakthrough season, batting over .500.
The problem for opposing staffs is that pitching around Hosmer leads to facing Nieto with a runner on base.
“They can throw around him all they want, but it’s pick your poison,” Fitzgerald said.
While Nieto certainly brings much to the table offensively, he also excels at other, less heralded aspects of the game. He has done very well handling pitchers and being the field general from behind the plate.
“He’s probably the smartest catcher I’ve ever been around. He sees things from a perspective that normal kids don’t see it,” Fitzgerald said.
The biggest testament to Nieto’s acumen behind the plate is the trust that Fitzgerald has in him. Fitzgerald said that he used to call every pitch, but has now let Nieto make the selections, with no drop off in production from the pitchers.
“We seem to be on the same page,” Fitzgerald said. “When he sees one of our kids in trouble, he slows it down and goes to talk to them.”
Some of the biggest compliments for Hosmer and Nieto refer to their off the field personalities. Neither is boastful about his college commitment (Hosmer to Arizona State or Nieto to South Florida). Neither is obsessed with his status as a potential high pick in the June MLB amateur draft. Both are more focused on winning a state championship this season, according to Fitzgerald.
“They’re so enthralled with trying to win a state champion that that’s all they talk about,” said Fitzgerald, who mentioned that 61 major league scouts were present for the team’s first preseason scrimmage.
Hosmer and Nieto have been supportive of their hardwood star counterparts, Boynton and Vargas. In fact, the baseball team comes out in full force to support the basketball Patriots. They have their own section of fans called “The Bullpen” with accompanying tee shirts.
“Our school is small. Our sports group is pretty tight with each other. We pull for each other to be successful in everything,” Fitzgerald said.
As the baseball season begins and basketball shoes and head bands are traded in for cleats and eye shadow, the students at American Heritage won’t have to pull too hard for success on the diamond, as long as that diamond includes Eric Hosmer and Adrian Nieto.