By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
Kennedy Duran is the epitome of what every coach and teacher should be. Duran puts the development of each player and the development of the team first. Winning is great, but not everything. In high school sports you cannot go out and select 4-star and 5-star players. A coach has to make the best of what comes to him.
Now, after 14 seasons and last year’s truncated season at Lennard High, Coach Duran is ready to preach his philosophy and put his best efforts into effect in a new locale about 10 miles away at Sumner High.
Last April 2020, Duran took on the massive but potentially rewarding challenge of not only coaching but building a high school varsity and junior varsity baseball program at the new Sumner High on County Rd. 372. He has done it previously. Fifteen years ago Duran and Lennard were both new to the South Shore. The Longhorns were as green as the outfield grass. From scratch, and raw scratch at that, Duran molded them into a team and into individuals with principles that practiced the fundamentals of baseball as a preparation for life. It was a rocky road. Lennard was 0-22 in his and Lennard’s first year. Finally, in 2019, Lennard posted its first winning season and only playoff appearance.
Waxing as philosophical as Aristotle and as practical as the sacrifice bunt, Duran has moved east, slightly. He has brought his perspective and practice with him — as a mentor for sports and life. In the transition from Lennard to Sumner, Duran did not abandon the Ruskin school. The Longhorns’ cupboard has talent and, more important, Duran’s longtime protégé Victor Martinez as the new head coach.
Duran comments now that with anything as humans, we like to see things for the first time. As a first-year start-up like Sumner is, we always enjoy watching how things start to come together for the team as it grows from the ground up, he observes.
But there are big challenges and unforeseen bumps in the road with a first-year program as well, including the lack of seniors at the school. For instance, 20 of the 32 players in the Stingrays’ program for 2021 are freshmen. However, Duran said this year things will fall on him to get the most out of his players from the level where they are right now, while waiting for them to develop within the program.
“I’m excited that our young guys are picking up the culture we are trying to build. They are taking to it, and it is my job to set them up for success, and that may mean we have to focus on things like small ball and fundamentals, while we build things for the future as these young players grow and mature.”
Gabriel Mangual is a fleet-footed outfielder the Stingrays are going to count on to get on base. Duran anticipates when that happens “look out,” as the junior has shown plenty of speed. Not only can that speed ignite an offense but defensively it helps Mangual cover a lot of ground in the outfield. Duran also points to Mangual, an excellent student, as a leader who is constantly working to improve. RHP Jayden Brown will be one of the keys on the mound. Duran says, “Brown runs it up there in the mid-80s,” which Duran feels will keep him in a lot of games. These are the type of young men that you build around, according to the veteran coach. “I preach patience from our players, coaches and parents. Rome was not built in a day. Like any of my programs, players will be put in the best place they can succeed.
Duran, 46, was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the metro New York City area at the age of 13, where he graduated from North Rockland High School in Thiells, N.Y. In high school he was a three-sport letterman in football, wrestling and baseball. He played in college at Cortland State University of New York from 1993-96. Duran had a stint in the New York Mets organization, playing briefly at Kingsport, Tenn. and at Pittsfield, Mass. He graduated from Cortland State in 1998, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education. Duran went on to earn a Master’s degree in Health Education from Eastern University in Philadelphia in 2002. He also coached baseball at Eastern, where three of his players were drafted by the MLB. Duran and his wife Miriam, also a teacher and a 1998 graduate of LaSalle University, live in Riverview with their two daughters: Isabella, 18, and Kayla, 14.
“Our short- and long-term vision is of a baseball team that values building trust, honesty and accountability and can get the job done mentality, “ Duran mentions.
As Duran makes the changes, he told news media:“There are so many small victories coaches get to enjoy. You wait a lifetime to get a kid drafted, (Lennard alum Jackson Tetreault was drafted out of State College of Florida by the Washington Nationals in 2017).
“Another small victory is to get a kid into a college program for the first time, to have a .500 team for the first time it’s not always about wins and losses. When you start out, it’s about all those small victories for the program, that start of a new foundation. That is the thing I’m most looking forward to getting to be a small part of again.”
Duran emphasized the three principles he developed at Lennard are now in play at his new diamond from his “office” in the dugout and in the third base coaching box.
“First, we expect to have a part in helping Sumner High School achieve its primary goal of reaching, teaching and preparing graduates for a life of purpose. We will accomplish this by representing our school with respect, pride and veracity on the field and in the community.
“The second purpose of our baseball program is to help young men achieve their dreams in the classroom, on the field and in life.”
It does not end there for the philosophy of Duran. “The third and final purpose of our baseball program is to make our community a better place one player at a time. The second and third purposes will both be achieved in the same way: by teaching our players to value education, character, integrity and work ethic,” adds the committed mentor.
By STEVE JACKSON
Snow and ice dominated the weather throughout the US last week except in two states: Hawaii and Florida. Hawaii has its boring beaches, volcanoes and pineapples year ‘round. Meanwhile, in Florida’s South Shore, baseballs and diamonds, the perennial positive signs of spring, reared their welcome heads.
South Shore high schools opened the 2021 baseball season with all squads, except one, notching a win in the opening week. Spring sports were rudely cut short after a handful of games last year, due to Covid 19. For 2021, the boys of summer are roaring to make a complete season, which is set to run through April when playoffs start. Teams will play three or four seven-inning games a week, with action during the week mostly starting at 7 p.m. Several schools are also scheduled to play some Saturday mornings at 10.
The newest addition to the South Shore, Sumner High, as in football and basketball, is playing without seniors. As in those two sports, the Stingrays, under veteran coach but new to Sumner, Kennedy Duran, appear ready to make their mark. Although the Stingrays were stung 9-0 by East Bay to open the season, they found their bats later in the week to thump Spoto 10-4, getting their first-ever win to go 1-1. Sumner challenges Jefferson in Tampa this Friday and then plays on its new home field Tuesday, March 2, against Tampa Bay Tech.
Lennard won in a slugfest, 10-9, over Middleton. With Coach Victor Martinez as Duran’s successor, the Longhorns won one and lost two last week. The Horns travel to Durant early this week and then have home games next week against Newsome on March 2 and Riverview on March 7. First pitch for both is 7 p.m.
The Riverview Sharks dropped their opener to Plant City but showed they are ready to contend in 74-D8. With Coach Jason Smith calling the shots, the Sharks received a complete game from junior hurler Nate Hook in a 3-2 win over East Bay to put each team at 1-1 in the first week. The Sharks have a pair of games at home this week. After an early week bout with Newsome, Riverview hosts Steinbrenner for a Saturday, Feb. 27, game at 10 a.m.
The East Bay Indians of Coach Cody Crouse exhibited some good pitching in the early going, shutting out Sumner and losing 3-2 to Riverview. In a nice twist, East Bay honored 2020 seniors in the season opening win. The trio whose prep baseball was cut short, Joe Hoover, Aaron Jackson and Jared Taylor, were duly recognized at the Sumner game.
Spoto and Coach Kevin Welborn are the lone South Shore team still looking for that first win this week. At 0-2 the Spartans play early in the week at Middleton and at Newsome. Then Spoto returns home for a 10 a.m. date with Leto, Saturday, Feb. 27.