SARASOTA - As traditional as foil wrapped ballpark franks, ball caps and sunflower seeds, comes the buttoned-down uniform. Though the cotton may be stained with battle scars of grassy field dives and dirt slides, the organization’s name is worn proudly across the chest like diamond flying Supermen.
But how does a name come to be? How is a title decided to reign over a group of players dedicated to play for its reputation and meaning? We asked coaches playing in the 2012 Prospect Wire Florida State Finals for a little insight and history on how their team name was born- and what it means to them.
First up was Stephen Barton, founder and head hitting instructor of Gatorball. After sporting a Gator uniform from 2002-2006 and deciding to base his organization outside of Gainesville, it is hard to find mystery in the roots of Barton’s program.
“When I first started it, a former teammate began doing workouts and training guys and doing lessons,” Barton said. “So we came up with the idea for the name Gatorball seeing that there were going to be instructors who are former players at the University of Florida.”
Barton has found that his tie between his program and the Florida Gators has brought a credible reputation to his program. Players respond well to the experienced staff by trusting in the coaches’ past- because ultimately it’s where they want to be in the future.
“They enjoy playing for guys who played for the Gators,” said Barton. “When guys show up who played for UF you can see a different type of attention from them. They show a lot of respect because of who is coaching them.”
However, the name sinks deeper than just the obvious affiliation with the orange and blue. It resonates what it means to be a link with the Gators and what values come with it outside of the sport.
Gatorball’s mission statement declares that the program “will focus on teaching young athletes about the integrity of the game, having a strong work ethic, being competitive, and developing mentally not only as an athlete, but as a person as well.”
Barton supports his philosophy saying, “We teach our guys to have respect for the game. Being a Gator you have to have a lot of pride and values to show how we are at UF and the affiliation-through teaching the right way to play and have pride in the name.”
While anyone can peg a good guess at the history behind Gatorball, some team names stand as an enigma amongst players and fans- and even with their own coaches.
Upon asking the Poker’s general manager Ryan Combs how such a unique name came about, he was just as curious as we were.
“To be honest they’ve been around since 1990 and I just took over a couple years ago,” Combs admitted. “I’m not sure where the owner came up with it. I don’t really know where it came from people ask me that all the time.”
Despite the ambiguity of exactly how the word “Pokers” found itself stitched upon a talented squad, Combs credits the name with a beneficial sense of tradition.
“You want people to know your name,” Combs said. “It’s a name that’s been around for a long time and people know it.”
Although Combs is presently in his first year as Varsity Baseball Coach at Pompano Beach High School and beginning his third season coaching for the Pokers, Coach Combs gained a different sense of experience regarding how to become recognizable during his time serving as a former scout for Perfect Game USA.
“It’s like a brand,” Combs reasons, “and if you have a name that’s been around for awhile it carries. We’ve had a lot of people come to us because of guys we’ve had in the past, so the name carries with it as a tradition of having good players.”
Combs has no doubt that his team’s name has done just that.
“When I talk to kids all over the state and even the country they know the name the Florida Pokers. I feel that it carries the tradition of the past that we’ve had and we want to continue what we have right now.”
Last, but certainly not the least unique, is the investigation behind perhaps the most one-of-a-kind name- Chet Lemon’s Juice.
Chet Lemon, a former Major League baseball outfielder, was a three-time all-star and member of the of the World Series championship Detroit Tigers team in 1984- and with great success comes great nicknames.
“When I was playing they called me lemon drop, lemon juice, and when I hit home runs, lemonade,” Lemon remembers. “It stuck with me so when I was playing they used a short form of everything, so it went from all those things it went to just Juice.”
After retiring from the majors in the spring of 1991, Lemons recalls starting the Juice program during the latter part of 1993. The name just came naturally as Florida citrus itself. The MLB star promptly dubbed his new program “Chet Lemon’s Juice.”
And that juice sure has the recipe for success.
“We probably have around 15 guys in the big leagues right now from our program,” Lemons said. “I want to say that we’ve had a couple hundred guys come from our program that have gone on to play professional level baseball.”
It’s rare that you find a player who hasn’t gotten a taste of the Juice. Over Lemon’s 19-year span of squeezing the potential out of his players, the reputation of his program has gotten many wanting to fill their cups with his experience.
“There’s not very many people who don’t know who you’re talking about when you say the Juice because of the success that we’ve had in the program,” said Lemons.
“You mention the Juice they’ll go ‘The Juice? Heck yeah!’”
Written by: Mandy Perkins