On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Polo Park Middle School boys baseball team began a defense of its Palm Beach County middle school baseball championship, which the team won last fall.
The Stallions’ opening game of the current fall season was played against Western Pines Middle School. The young Stallions lost 3-2, but Polo Park head coach Craig Kaliser said his team played well, especially on defense.
Kaliser believes it will be as tough for his team to defend the title this fall as it was to win the county title last fall. “It is definitely going to be difficult to try and defend our title,” Kaliser said. “The level of competition, just in our division alone, makes it hard to even make the playoffs, let alone win the championship. Wellington Landings and Western Pines are powerhouse baseball programs, and Crestwood and Osceola Creek are no pushovers themselves. That doesn’t even include the strong schools in the northern part of the county, as well as Emerald Cove and Christa McAuliffe, which will be waiting for us at the end.”
According to Kaliser, this year’s team has 16 players, six of whom were on the team last fall, but a quartet of those six were an integral part of the success of last year’s championship team.
“There is a core four of returners who are going to be our leaders,” Kaliser said. “Our co-captains are Tanner Gilman and Gabrian Diaz. Both are now veterans, having started all the games last year, with Gilman scoring the winning run in the county semifinals, and Diaz being the one who drove him in with the game-winning hit. The other two players, Kieran Rivera and Cole Vatterott, played at times last year, but they are now expected to carry more of the load as eighth-grade leaders.”
Polo Park’s success this year will be influenced by its depth of pitching. “Our three main pitchers will be Diaz, Gilman and Rivera,” Kaliser said. “We do have some other live arms who can really throw, but those players will be the leaders of our pitching staff.”
According to Kaliser, two of the strengths of his current squad are their positive attitude and team-first approach to the game.
“The two things I know I can hang my hat on with our team are talent and hard work,” Kaliser said. “We have some really great players, but they are always trying to get better. That drive to improve gives me some optimism that as the season moves along, we will get better and better and will be a tough team to beat come mid-October. I also really like our team chemistry. We have nine eighth graders, five seventh graders and two sixth graders, but they all treat each other as brothers. When I see them hanging out together before school or laughing and joking together in the courtyard, I know they will have each other’s back when a tough situation arises during a game. That combination gives me hope that we can be a strong, tough, well-balanced team.”
Now entering his 16th season as the school’s baseball coach, Kaliser remains committed to emphasizing the fundamentals of baseball to his players.
“Our philosophy does not change in any year,” said Kaliser, who’s career coaching record at Polo Park is 110-50. “We believe in three things at Polo Park — pitching (throwing strikes), playing strong defense and base running. Those are the core principles of the program here. Yes, we practice hitting, but our belief is that if we throw strikes, play great defense and get on base and run, we have a great chance to win any game. Though I do have some outstanding hitters this season, we spend the majority of our time working on those three parts of the game during practices.”
Polo Park has a 10-game regular season schedule that concludes on Tuesday, Oct. 18. After that, the Palm Beach County middle school playoffs begin.