Juco : : Story
Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Era at Miami Dade

Allan Simpson        
New Era At Miami-Dade,
But School Ascends to No. 1

Despite just one Junior College World Series appearance in 30 years, Miami-Dade remains one of the nation’s most-celebrated junior-college baseball programs.
No school has produced more draft picks through the years, or sent more players to the big leagues. Among more than 70 future major leaguers who once played at Miami-Dade are Steve Carlton, Warren Cromartie, Bucky Dent, Alex Fernandez, Oddibe McDowell and Mike Piazza, along with current Philadelphia Phillies players Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco.
The school has also produced a “Who’s Who” in coaching circles at the junior-college level with three legendary former coaches who each won at least 900 games. That distinguished list includes Demie Mainieri (1,012 wins in 30 years), Charlie Greene (935 wins in 30 years) and Steve Hertz (946 wins in 26 years).
Hertz retired following the 2010 season, paving the way for Danny Price to take over the coaching reins for the Sharks. Price, 59, is no stranger to winning himself, as he won 1,086 games as the head coach at Florida International from 1980-2007, before being fired four years ago.
He inherited a team that went a combined 165-49 over the last four years and routinely was ranked at or near the top of the junior-college polls, both at the state and national levels, but was unceremoniously stopped just short of a return trip to the Junior College World Series at the rugged Florida junior-college state tournament.
The Sharks have hardly skipped a beat this season, even with a new coach, and have been ranked No. 1 in the latest Perfect Game USA / National Junior College Athletic Association rankings. Through 27 games, the Sharks were 21-6 and 5-1 in conference play.
Though a majority of the players on the current Miami-Dade roster are from area high schools, the Sharks have tapped liberally into various talent sources in recent years, notably from Latin America, and two of their top arms are East Carolina-bound righthander Jharel Cotton (4-0, 1.86) from the Virgin Islands, and Josue Martinez (4-0, 2.42), a 25th-round pick of the Padres in the 2010 draft, from Puerto Rico. The team’s top run producer, outfielder Leonardo Rojas (.351-2-27), is from Venezuela.
But no two players are more responsible for Miami-Dade’s surge to the top of the polls than sophomore outfielder Brian Goodwin (.382-5-19), a North Carolina product, and sophomore righthander Derek Law (5-1, 1.10, 41 IP, 7 BB/65 SO), a Pennsylvania product. Goodwin, a multi-dimensional talent who transferred from the University of North Carolina following his freshman year, is the top-rated prospect in the junior-college ranks and stands a solid chance of being drafted in the first round in June.
Despite a distinguished track record over its 50-year existence, Miami-Dade has been challenged in recent years to play on a national stage. The school has made only one appearance (in 2001) in Grand Junction, Colo., the long-time home of the Junior College World Series, since 1981, when the school won the second of two national titles.
That relative dry run stems, in part, from the school’s athletic department being consolidated into one campus in 1998. Prior to that, Miami-Dade fielded three baseball teams, one each at its North, South/Kendall and Wolfson/New World Center campuses. In all, eight campuses in and around south Florida comprise the Miami-Dade system, which is the largest in the Florida college system.
Mainieri, the father of current Louisiana State coach Paul Mainieri, was the head coach at the North campus from 1961-90, before stepping aside shortly after becoming the first JC coach to ever win 1,000 games. He guided his teams to five World Series trips, winning a national title in 1964.
Greene coached at Miami-Dade-South from 1968-97 and guided that school to the 1981 national title, but his tenure there ended after 30 years when the three baseball teams were rolled into one and Hertz, who had been the head coach at Miami-Dade Wolfson since 1986, was chosen to head up the revamped one-team program, which continues to play its games at the South/Kendall campus.
A special ceremony last November organized by Price, recognized the three Miami-Dade coaching legends.
“You can’t move forward without honoring the past,” said Price, who could become the prime benefactor of the school’s rich baseball lineage in just his first season as coach if the Sharks can play up to expectations the remainder of the 2011 season and the school overcomes years of frustration by finally returning again to the Junior College World Series.
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