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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Vince Grasso, a St. Petersburg High senior, is hitting .389 with a team-leading 24 RBIs and has continued to hone his leadership skills behind the plate.
St. Petersburg's opponent in today's region final, Cape Coral Mariner, jumped all over Clearwater ace Mike Booth in the last round, scoring four runs off five hits in the first inning.
Based on that, St. Petersburg coach Stefan Futch identified the key to today's Class 5A matchup.
"The biggest thing will be to keep the ball down," Futch said. "It's just typical pitching stuff, hitting your spots, changing speeds, keeping the batters off-balance."
St. Petersburg senior catcher Vince Grasso will be an integral part in making sure starting pitcher Dale Brannon (7-2, 0.14 ERA) does just that.
As evidenced by the records of Brannon, Courtland Chambers (8-0, 1.74) and Adam Recvlohe (7-1, 2.52), Grasso has been doing his job nicely all year.
"There's been plenty of times this year where I've just turned them loose," Futch said of letting his catcher call the game. "It's 100 percent different from his freshman year when (coaches) kind of had to walk him through how to call a game and communicate with us and his pitchers."
Grasso, who won the starting job as a freshman over sophomore Nolan Brannon, may have been green defensively but he shined at the plate, batting .364.
But the following year Grasso lost the catching job back to Brannon and played third base. He struggled at the plate with his average dipping to .147 with only 10 hits and five RBIs.
"I learned a lot about myself and I feel I progressed a lot that year," Grasso said.
Grasso, who has a poster of Vince Lombardi's famous essay, "What it takes to be Number One," hanging on his bedroom wall, made it a habit to do conditioning or weightlifting every day in the offseason.
He also got back to basics, fundamentals learned from his dad, Nick, who started as catcher at USF and coached his son in Little League.
"It just always helps to do the little things like that," Vince said. "We would go in the back and do soft toss to get my swing back."
That happened in a major way his junior year, when he hit .351 with 20 hits, two home runs and 21 RBIs. He has carried that over this season, raising his average to .389 with 28 hits, two homers and a team-leading 24 RBIs.
And, he has developed as a catcher as well.
"He's a solid catcher," Recvlohe said. "He doesn't get shaken up about anything that goes wrong, which keeps us confident. And his bat has been huge for us as well."
"Before the season, our team emphasis was to come together and play the best ball possible," Grasso said. "We've achieved most of our goals, including winning the south division in the county and clinching the No.1 spot in the district. Even though we lost the PCAC (Pinellas County Athletic Conference), we're not going to let that get us down. We know we can compete with the best and that's what we plan to do."