By CANDACE MARTINO
The number seven is ever-present in our daily lives; there are seven seas, seven continents, and seven days a week, and the number is often associated with good luck. For head baseball coach Joe Urso, the number has become a part of his identity. Urso has worn the “7” jersey since his arrival at UT as a student.
“I started wearing number seven when I got here as a freshman and after four years here, I always asked for that number in the minor leagues with the Angels,” Urso said.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, nearly 200 people were in attendance to honor the Spartans’ NCAA Division II National Championship victory. The school elected to surprise Coach Urso in retiring his number after he became the winningest head coach in UT history. Urso has led Tampa to a combined four national championships as a head coach and one as a player in 1992. His retired number 7 will be displayed at the UT
Baseball field, next to former greats Sam Militello, “22”, Tino Martinez, “3,” and Lelo Prado, “1.”
“I cannot thank UT enough for honoring me in the best way possible,” Urso said. “To have my number retired at one of the best baseball schools in the country is amazing. I have so much pride in UT baseball. I couldn’t hold back the tears when coach Sam Militello said no one will ever wear the number seven again.”
The Spartans finished off the season at 43-13 with a 3-1 victory over Catawba University in the national championship game in Cary, N.C. The rings also display the final score of UT’s win over the Philadelphia Phillies last March, whom they beat 6-2. This marked Tampa as only the fourth team in NCAA history to beat an MLB opponent.
This year, the team will rely on two returning players to help lead the way for the Spartans, after losing key pieces like Giovanny Alfonzo and Stephen Dezzi.
“We lost seven starters from our starting line up. With only two returning everyday [positional players] in Casey Scoggins and Cody DeNoyelles, I will lean on both of them to get this offense going,” Urso said. “The pitching staff brings back a lot of experience with MVP Michael Calkins, David Heintz and Brad Hencke. We added Brett Morales who should be one of our top starting pitchers. The success of this year’s team will fall on the shoulders of our pitching staff.”
Scoggins, who was the 2014 National Defender of the Year, is entering his fourth and final year for Tampa. Scoggins spent his summer joining the Gastonia Grizzlies in the Coastal Plain League, playing three games a week and undertaking a leadership role. He spent endless hours in the gym to hone his skills for this upcoming season.
“I worked on speed and agility, since that’s a big part of my game with stealing bases. It’s so important because we have an entirely different team this year than last. We have to be more fundamentally sound,” Scoggins said.
One of Tampa’s main focuses this year is looking at the task at hand, which is defending their national title. Much of this year’s emphasis will be on creating an identity for the 2016 team.
“It will come in time,” Scoggins said. “People are going to compare this year to last year but we have to focus on what we can control. We have to stick together and find ways to win. Champions find ways to win and that’s our goal.”
With the end of fall ball drawing near, the Spartans have spent their time channeling in on the little things, including hitting situations.
“I believe our team has a chance to do something special this year. If we do our parts it will be a fun year,” Scoggins said.
With number seven leading the way, it’s bound to be.