Take me out to the high school ballgame!

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — While sitting in the stands at the Baseball City 18 & Under Classic, fans must keep their head on a swivel for raining baseballs coming from the four baseball diamonds that comprise the baseball complex. The fields play host to teams from throughout the United States in a seven-day World Series Classic.

Director Richard Ferran said the tournament has been going on for five years in St. Pete. Fans and parents endure scorching heat to support players who envision one day fulfilling their dream of playing in the Major Leagues.

One of those dreamers is D’Andre Woods with the Tampa Knights #2, who took the mound for his team in an afternoon meeting against their counterparts Tampa Knights #1 team. Woods is a transfer junior at Spoto High School who is working to hone his skills for the upcoming season.

D’Andre used a blazing fastball along with a change-up to pitch four innings and did not allow any runs against him. He was satisfied with his performance in this off-season tournament.

“I had a good game today with two knock singles,” said D’Andre. “I felt good pitching and playing the outfielder. I am a player who tries to give his all. On the field, I play wherever coach needs me.”

With his team down 6-0, Woods delivered an RBI single, beating out a fielder’s choice sliding into second base. He followed that by stealing third base. The throw beat him to the bag on the play, but a perfect slide allowed him to be safe. D’Andre further displayed his talent by moving to center field the next inning.

Last year he played for Blake High School, who folded their team. It took away valuable experience and time, so the summer classic allows D’Andre to connect with a former Tampa Yellow Jackets coach he knew from Little League.

“D’Andre is a strong left-handed pitcher, and he is going to be a big arm,” said Coach Stephon Knight, D’Andre’s former Little League coach. “I am trying to teach him to minimize his pitching so he can go deep in the game and be somewhere around 70-80 pitches. If he can minimize making four to six-pitch innings, then he can pitch longer and really help our team.”

Coach Knight is in his 12th year of coaching and is now the head coach at Spoto High School. He also works with the travel baseball program. Knight mentioned that batters have difficulty hitting good left-handed pitchers, which gives D’Andre a slight advantage.

“Along with his pitching, D’Andre’s bat is good. He came through today and gave us a clutch outfield. He is going to run down the balls and be fundamentally sound. But my biggest thing right now is just minimizing the number of pitches he throws,” said Coach Knight.

At the Baseball City 18 & Under Classic in the sweltering heat, D’Andre brought along a team of supporters, Auntie Tren and his mother, Lisa Fortson.

Mom, who is an avid baseball fan, thought D’Andre played well but could have done a little better. She conceded that with this being his first time playing with this team, he is feeling out the team and just getting into his groove.

“I try to work on all the places where I am weak while I’m practicing with coaches,” explained D’Andre. “I would like to take the game to another level like college or major league. I just have love for the game.”

The Baseball City 18 & Under Classic allows him to improve his game as he pursues his dreams.

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