College Sports

SCF alumni | Old players at all stages returned to honor coach Tim Hill

BRADENTON -- They came out in bunches to celebrate the beginning of a legend's final season as the head coach at their alma mater.

The annual alumni game on a windy Saturday in late January was the perfect capper to a weekend of festivities that included the State College of Florida Hall of Fame ceremony.

It also provided a glimpse into what happens to players looking to prolong their careers, preparing for another season in professional baseball, and those who are no longer in the game, but returned to see off longtime SCF head coach Tim Hill as the Manatees began their own year.

On the sidelines

Callix Crabbe brought his daughter to Robert C. Wynn Field, the venerable ballpark that is home to the SCF Manatees.

Crabbe was a free agent looking for a place to play baseball this coming season. He didn't play in the alumni game.

But it was important for Crabbe to visit because it is Hill's final season as SCF's head coach, something he announced on the first day of spring practices.

Crabbe said "Seven," -- the affectionate nickname that refers to the coach's jersey number -- helped him become a man and move into that next phase of his life.

Crabbe received a taste of the big leagues with the San Diego Padres following his departure as an instrumental part of the 2002 club that finished as the national runner-up.

"Baseball has been a true microcosm of life," Crabbe said. "If there's one thing that baseball teaches you is how to be mentally tough. And this opportunity for me right now to just trust that my life is going to be good no matter if I get to be on the baseball field or not. The day's going to come where I'm going to have to stop playing."

The bond

In any team sport, teammates either tolerate each other or genuinely care about each other. In college sports, players grow up together off the field as they develop their skills on it.

Jonathan Griffin and Gus Schlosser embodied that teammate camaraderie better than most during their tenure at SCF, which ended in 2009. They started their careers together at the youth level, ultimately taking the same path to Lakewood Ranch High and SCF.

They went their separate ways after SCF. Griffin moved to the University of Central Florida, before parlaying his talents to professional baseball. Schlosser did the same, albeit at Florida Southern.

The duo said they talk about everything, and despite the time difference last year with Griffin playing out West in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and Schlosser playing for Atlanta Braves affiliates in Danville, Va., and Rome, Ga., the pair keep in touch regularly.

"For me, it was developing a routine," said Griffin, of adjusting to pro baseball, "and trying to stick to that routine every single day. ... Getting your rest. Taking care of your body. Making sure you eat right. Stay hydrated. It's not like here or Division I, where you play three games and have a day off."

The bond between the pair, even at the annual alumni game, is undeniably strong.

"We still work out together, every day," Schlosser said. "We go in the weight room in the morning, then go out to the field in the afternoon every day."

After the game is over

Once a professional baseball career is over, it's easy to fade from memory.

That's not the case for Robin Jennings, who has kept himself in baseball by other means.

Jennings is in the baseball equipment business, selling ash and maple wood bats through Tribal Clubs, based in Ogden, Utah.

Jennings is the owner of the company that also provides 5-foot tall "Big Bats" as gifts for certain occasions.

One of those came at the alumni game, when Jennings presented Hill with his own custom-designed big bat to mark his service to SCF.

The move was a natural progression for Jennings following his 13 professional baseball seasons that included a brief comeback attempt as a 35-year-old in 2007 after three seasons away from the game.

"I was actually kind of a tech nerd (in school)," said Jennings, who has family members in computer programming and the television and film industry. "We've been in business for two years. And four years prior to that, I was in graphic design. ... I'm kind of getting the best of both worlds. I get to be around baseball guys, getting them some products and stuff and then go snowboard in the mountains, so it's all good."