- June 1, 2017
The rivalry between West Orange High and Apopka High, in all sports, is one of the most pronounced in all of Central Florida.
Baseball, of course, is no exception.
Each spring, the Warriors and the Blue Darters bring the best out in one another. It doesn’t matter if one team has a significant advantage in pure talent — the games always seem to be exciting.
Beyond the rivalry, though, is a mutual respect and friendship between the two programs’ head coaches: West Orange’s Jesse Marlo and Apopka’s Eric Lassiter.
Formerly colleagues as travel-ball coaches for the Orlando Scorpions organization, the two rivals during the varsity season have partnered with Turn2 Sports & Performance’s Brian Dempsey and Bishop Moore Catholic High head coach Tony Mehlich to start their own travel organization: Power Baseball.
“You gain a respect playing one another in the same district and having the battles that we’ve had the last six years,” Lassiter said. “So we got to know each other that way, and you kind of expand on it doing the travel ball stuff (as colleagues with the Scorpions). … This was brought up, and we have a mutual respect for each other and how we run our programs, so it seemed like a no-brainer to us.”
Thanks to their time with the Scorpions and experience coaching highly recruited players through their varsity programs, Marlo said the timing was finally right to give their own program a shot.
“We’ve just been in this a long time — I feel like we’ve kind of always had the resources to do it but haven’t had the time,” Marlo said. “It just so happened that everything came together at the right time for us. We felt it was our time to kind of branch out.”
Just what are those resources, exactly?
“Connections,” Marlo said. “That’s the main thing, No. 1 at the top of the list — having the college connections.”
“Connections. That’s the main thing (needed to launch a travel program). No. 1 at the top of the list — having the college connections.”
— Jesse Marlo, West Orange baseball head coach
And the proof is in the pudding: Power Baseball’s first showcase this fall had more than 25 college programs represented.
In addition to the connections the four main partners and their additional coaches bring, Power also has an early advantage in having a home training facility in Turn2. Located in Oakland, the indoor facility gives the travel program a home base.
“If you look around at the travel-ball organizations around the country that are the most successful, they have a home,” said Dempsey, who played his own varsity ball at East Ridge High before playing for USC-Upstate in college. “You’ve got to have a place to train.”
Joining the four partners are a who’s who of varsity coaches on the west side of Orange County. Dr. Phillips High’s Mike Bradley, The First Academy’s Scott Grove and East Ridge High’s Joey Wright are among the coaches who will be part of Power this summer, with more assistants, as well.
“It’s a really good starting point, the huge amount of talent that is just on the west side (of Orange County),” Lassiter said. “It obviously helps us a lot when we get the guys that we feel are the better coaches in the area to come and join Power Baseball.”
Tryouts for Power Baseball’s season in the summer of 2017 are scheduled for Jan. 6 to 8, 2017, at the Seminole Sports Complex in Sanford. Already, many of the players coached by the head coaches involved have expressed an interest in switching their travel affiliation to the program.
“I just think it makes the process easier for everybody if they’re with their (high school) head coach — that was one of the reasons it made it attractive for us to try and go out there and get a lot of head coaches,” Marlo said. “There’s no secret that high-school coaches and travel ball don’t see eye-to-eye.”
In addition to the pursuit of scholarship offers for their players, the coaches at Power intend to be highly competitive on a national scale.
“The reason that we’ve all been successful (as coaches) is we like to win,” Lassiter said. “We want to win in everything. We’re kind of geared that way — we’re geared to win.”
Of course, when asked which team would be better during varsity season this spring — West Orange or Apopka — both men declined comment.
After all, they’re still rivals for those few months each year.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected]