baseball ben joseph buchholz bobcats buchholz high school high school baseball jack charleston joe adel pitchers
I know what you’re all thinking.
Bryan, you’re a no good, lazy loser, and you have abandoned us.
Well, technically you are at least partially correct. Me apologizing for long periods of absence has become so cliche on this site that I won’t even go there anymore. I’ve come to the easy conclusion that Hilson fuels this site, and I just get tossed in for the occasional change of pace. That will probably be the case as long as he’s taking one blogging class, and I’m swimming through the heavily contaminated water that is senior year.
Seriously, why is college senior year so awful and tedious? My high school senior year consisted of joke-worthy computer courses and “war history” classes that really just consisted of us watching “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” over and over again. Did it cause me to majorly suck at my first semester of college? Sure, but I’d gladly take sucking at my first semester of post-post-secondary life if it meant Ethics and Editing could cease to exist.
Anyways, the fact that Hilson outnumbers my posts roughly 4-1 these days isn’t the point. If you check SC regularly, you already know that. The point is to show you all, my beloved Casualtists, just exactly why I have bastardized you.
When I’m not doing this or this or this, I have picked up the part-hobby/part-class assignment of covering high school baseball here in sunny Gainesville. As a sports reporting student, I am required to cover a beat for the entirety of the spring semester.
Since starting at Gator Country, I am now a beat writer for three UF teams (softball, men’s golf and women’s golf) on top of doing some football recruiting work and an upcoming Internet TV show. A sane person would make one of these sports double as his beat for class, except you know that sane person is not me.
Truth is, I enjoy covering the Buchholz Bobcats baseball team. As deranged as it sounds, it kind of feels like a break after a day of classes and homework.The atmosphere is fun, the parents are ridiculously helpful and the team is sick.
So it wasn’t as horrible as it sounds when I spent the better part of my spring break reporting and writing the 2,000-word feature story on what might be the best starting rotation in Florida high school baseball that you are about to read/skim through/ignore.
Do with it as you will, but I just wanted to prove that I’m doing a little more than sitting on a couch and drinking Busch Light all day.
It’s a Saturday afternoon at Buchholz High School’s baseball field, and Joe Adel is dealing.
The 6-foot-7, 212-pound senior pitcher is using every inch of his overwhelming, intimidating stature to his advantage. He’s utilizing a fastball that would give you an array of speeds in the low 90s if you were carrying a radar gun. The fastball is magnified by his height and release points, often causing the ball to hit junior catcher Kevin Krupp’s glove before the batter is quite sure what happened.
Adel takes a no-hitter into the seventh inning and picks up his second win in as many starts this season. He carries a 1.24 ERA and has registered 21 strikeouts in just over 11 innings of work.
Off the field, Adel is a humble jokester who is more likely to put an arm around you and help you find the players you need to interview in the postgame chaos than he is to brag about the talent that has led him to a college baseball scholarship at the University of South Florida.
When asked what he brings to the starting rotation at Buchholz, Adel quickly smiles and says that he “brings the good looks.”
But on the field, Adel is one of the best pitchers in the area. His aforementioned Saturday performance against Holy Innocents Episcopal, an Atlanta school on a four-game Florida spring break tour, is only different from his first two outings (the first coming in relief) in that he was not given a strict pitch-count limit.
Adel’s first two games were pitch-count limited because he moonlights as an all-county basketball player during the winter and had only recently rejoined the baseball team.
He chose South Florida over schools like West Point, Davidson and Harvard, because of his belief in Chuck Hernandez, the Bulls’ pitching coach and former major league pitching coach who once instructed Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander and Scott Kazmir.
“Chuck is the main reason I’m going there,” Adel said. “Most importantly, he can definitely develop me into a greater pitcher, and he believes that I can do that, too. That was huge for me.”
But just because Adel won’t pitch in the Bobcats’ next game doesn’t mean it will get any easier for their next opponent. That’s because joining Adel in the Buchholz rotation are two other pitchers who will be playing college baseball one year from now.
Their names are Ben Joseph and Jack Charleston, and together this trio might be on pace to win its second state championship. However, you won’t find their first state championship in the FHSAA record books or on the Buchholz trophy shelves.
“We’ve been together since seventh grade, and we won state in seventh grade,” Joseph said.
Their first title came wearing the red and blue of the Santa Fe Sluggers, a local travel-ball team, not the black and gold of Buchholz High School.
The Sluggers were together for about four-and-a-half years and featured some of the best baseball talent in the Gainesville area. All but one of the team’s alumni currently plays high school baseball in the Alachua County. The other Is Garrett Marshall, the Sluggers’ talented center fielder who moved to Georgia.
Five members of the 2011 Buchholz high school roster were on the 12-year-old Sluggers team that won a state title in 2006. Aside from Adel, Charleston and Joseph, current first baseman Graham Cason and current third baseman Austin Stone were also on the team.
Hugh Cain was the head coach of the Sluggers, but the team’s assistant coaches were more directly connected to the current Buchholz rotation. Doug Adel and Greg Charleston, the fathers of Joe and Jack, served as Cain’s assistants.
Adel and Charleston helped coach their sons from the time they were 8 until Jack started at Buchholz and Joe began high school at St. Francis Catholic.
“My dad first taught me how to play baseball and showcase myself and what I can do,” Adel told the Gainesville Sun in November. “He started a travel team and has always been there for me.”
The friendship between their sons went back even further than the 12-year-old Sluggers.
Adel and Charleston have been classmates since their preschool days at St. Patrick’s Interparish School. With birthdays only a couple days apart, Adel and Charleston occasionally had joint birthday parties as young children.
“They go way back,” Adel’s father said.
“Way back” is also when Charleston’s father, a former college baseball player and minor leaguer in the New York Mets’ system, began instilling long-term fundamentals in both young boys. He had Adel and Charleston starting every practice with long toss when they were 8 years old.
He focused heavily on mechanics at an age when most kids want to do nothing but play scrimmage games at practice. First they played catch at 120 feet, then 220 feet, but their mechanics always had to stay the same.
Charleston’s father says that too many pitchers today are being coddled, and that’s the reason for increasing amounts of arm problems at the college and major league levels.
“You can’t take a day off of throwing,” he said. “When [Adel, Charleston and Joseph] come to a game, it’s a piece of cake. They have the stamina and arm strength to succeed.”
Birthday parties weren’t the only things that Adel and Charleston shared as youngsters. As the starting pitcher for the 8-year-old Pirates, Adel was limited by the local league on how many pitches he could throw.
This often meant switching out with Charleston in the middle of games which required the two to meet halfway, swap out gear and trot to their new positions where Adel towered over opposing batters. Adel never played catcher again after his time with the Pirates.
It’s a Friday night at Gainesville High’s baseball field, and Charleston is leaving batters perplexed.
The lanky right-handed senior’s 150 pounds barely fill the 6-foot-5 frame that he has recently sprouted. His thin lower body is deemed irrelevant when spectators see the low 90s velocity of his fastball, and what head coach Ron Brooks calls the best breaking ball on the team.
He wasn’t always a pitcher. In his days on the Sluggers, Charleston played everywhere and rarely pitched. He often played at shortstop or catcher during the 12-year-old state title run.
“Up until this year, I had no idea where Jack would be as a pitcher,” Adel’s father said. “He’s having a great season.”
Charleston works six innings against the Hurricanes, stretching his team-leading total to 14 innings pitched in three games. He strikes out four along the way.
Next season, Charleston will be taking his deceiving frame and three-pitch repertoire to St. Augustine, Fla., on a baseball scholarship at Flagler College, a school that started recruiting him as a junior.
“It’s good to know that I’m going somewhere where I’m wanted and needed,” Charleston said.
Joseph, the son of a rabbi who childhood coaches call Benjy, joined the group later. His family moved to Gainesville from Virginia when he was in the sixth grade. Once in Gainesville, he initially played for the Gainesville Bats, a travel team that Adel’s father called a rival even though he admitted that the Sluggers rarely lost to them.
After playing in a national tournament for the Bats in Cooperstown, N.Y., the same week that the Sluggers were also playing there, Joseph left the Bats and joined the Sluggers. Charleston had left the Gainesville Bandits, an older team that he was playing with, to join the Sluggers right before their trip to Cooperstown.
At Cooperstown, an ongoing summer tournament where 96 teams from all over the world come in and out on a weekly basis, Charleston had five home runs as the Sluggers finished 18th at the tournament. They lost to a team from Ohio that went on to win the entire tournament.
Now with a solid foundation in the future “Big Three” of Buchholz, the Sluggers headed back to Florida for their fall season.
While they didn’t have the best year as a whole, the Sluggers caught on when it mattered most: in a November tournament for the state championship. Charleston’s father described a group of players from various schools and cliques that didn’t always get along but pulled everything together when they needed to.
The Sluggers went 6-0 in a state tournament that began with group play.
Leading the way were Stone, Charleston and Adel, the three players with the highest batting averages in the tournament. Adel also started three of the six tournament games, and closed out the last inning of the Sluggers’ semifinal just before starting their match-up against the Sarasota Stealth for the championship.
After Joseph closed out the 9-5 victory that Adel started, the Sluggers had come a long way from their early days when a parent’s space heater once caught a dugout on fire on a cold night during the early parts of a spring season.
They were state champions.
It’s a Tuesday night at Buchholz, and Joseph is dominant.
At 6-foot and 195 pounds, Joseph doesn’t have the towering stature of the other two pitchers in the Bobcat starting rotation. But Joseph’s size hasn’t changed much since he was an overbearing righty on Cain’s state championship team.
“He had a full-grown body on a 12-year-old,” Adel’s father said.
Joseph brings more variety to the rotation by utilizing a cutter and a slider. He has a knack for throwing harder as the game goes on which fans don’t get to see on this particular Tuesday night as he is pulled from the game in the fourth inning after just 47 pitches.
The reasoning for his early exit is simple. The Bobcats are already ahead by 15 runs in a game where Jacksonville’s White High would only register one hit and have to call it a day after the fifth inning due to high school’s ten-run rule.
Joseph is maybe the most vocal about the Bobcats’ talent level this season.
“When we throw strikes, we’re not going to be touched,” Joseph said. “We’re going to beat ourselves more than other teams are going to beat us. If we don’t reach state, the senior class will be disappointed.”
That senior class is 13 members-strong and is led heavily by the five former Sluggers.
Joseph is the only man in the rotation who will not be staying in the state of Florida this fall. That’s because you have to go a little further north to find the Ivy League.
Some families’ traditions are high schools or timeshares in the mountains of North Carolina. But for the Josephs, the common bond is Yale University.
“My sister is a junior [at Yale] this year, my dad graduated from there in 1980 and his father graduated from there in 1955,” Joseph said.
Joseph chose pitching at Yale over baseball offers from schools like Duke and Tulane.
Five years after first coming together and winning their first championship as a group, Adel, Charleston and Joseph, seem bound to do something special in 2011.
It’s apparent around the ballpark whenever one of them is on the mound. Dads of freshman and junior varsity players stick around to watch even though their kids are begging them to go home. The same dads nudge you and rattle off each pitcher’s attributes like a scouting report when you mention one of their names.
“I’d put this pitching staff up with anybody in the area,” Brooks said. “I’d put them up with anybody in the state for that matter. The only thing we’re missing is a left-hander.”
Greg Charleston has been around Buchholz baseball for six years. His oldest son, Stuart, played for the Bobcats and is now a pitcher at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He said that he has never seen a high school team with three pitchers that are this good.
“I never doubted that all three of them would have a chance to play after high school,” Charleston said. “It has been fun watching them.”