A diamond full of Polk State Eagle baseball players have extended their play into summer with winning results.
Eight former and current Eagles have assisted the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs and the Leesburg Lightning in claiming the top two spots of the Florida Summer Collegiate League during the past few months and now they have a chance to compete in the playoffs.
Eagles Daniel Sweet, Jose Serrano, Cody DeNoyelles and Mike Danner play for the first-place Winter Park Diamond Dawgs, while Brett Jones, Erik Hindmon, Trey Norris and Matthew Singletary are on the second-place Leesburg Lightning in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.
The Florida Collegiate Summer League is partially backed by Major League Baseball and is considered one of the top three or four collegiate leagues in the country.
The four Diamond Dawgs from Polk were selected by Winter Park coach Kevin Davidson, who relied on input from Polk coach Al Corbeil to make his selections.
"Al is always my first phone call," said Davidson of formulating his team. "I base it on his knowledge of the game and ability to recognize talent. He always has what I want. He always sends me great guys."
That praise is not to be taken lightly, given Davidson's knowledge of the game.
The former Rollins College catcher was drafted by the Houston Astros and is now in his third year with the Florida Collegiate Summer League who was drafted by the Houston Astros.
The league is part of the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball. It's been ranked by Baseball America as one of the top leagues in the country.
The Florida Collegiate Summer League is a wood bat league frequented by professional scouts. It provides players with professional potential a chance to improve their skills, learn to hit with a wood bat, stay in shape, be seen by scouts, and have fun.
Nearly 200 players who have played in the league have been drafted to professional Major League Baseball teams.
Davidson is happy with Polk's contribution to the Diamond Dawgs this year as they approach the playoffs.
Polk's Daniel Sweet is among the league leaders in several categories, and he was named the Florida Collegiate Summer League All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. He posted two hits, scored two runs and stole two bases as the South defeated the North 5-2.
"He is amazing," said Davidson of Sweet, who is in his second year with the league. "His work ethic is something that's not been matched by anyone I've ever had or ever will have. He has to learn to pace his body and himself. I don't want him breaking down. He's such a competitor."
Davidson also glowed over Danner, who is a Florida Collegiate Summer League All-Star and is now playing with the University of Tampa.
"He has the best hands I've ever seen at the college level," Davidson said. "He can flat out hit."
He counts on Danner, who was also a two-time All-State selection with Polk.
"My coaches are after me to leave him out of the lineup and give him a day off." he said.
Davidson is also enjoying his time with current Eagle Serrano, whom Corbeil converted from an infielder to a pitcher.
"That's a testament to Al's vision," Davidson said. "Jose is a great athlete. He's a sponge. He cares about the game. He is here to get better. His results are there."
Davidson uses Serrano as a middle or late reliever.
Serrano has an impressive 1.68 ERA.
In all, there are nine Eagles, both current and past, in the league.
Former Eagles Brett Jones, Erik Hindmon, Matt Singletary and Trey Norris play on the second place Leesburg Lightning.
Davidson would love to have them all on his squad.
Jones drove in a run in the first game of a double-header Saturday as the second-place Lightning closed the gap on the Dawgs to just one game after winning both ends of a double header.
"He can play," said Davidson of Jones.
He's seen Hindmon's work behind the plate.
"That's a kid you want on your team," he said. "He's a fierce competitor. He's a horse for them."
Norris has tallied three saves this season and led the league in saves last year.
"He's one of my favorites," Davidson said. "I know we have to get the lead by the eighth, or we are in trouble."
Singletary has been struggling at the plate, but Davidson has seen players struggle many times.
"You're here to help the kids," he said. "I tell him to keep plugging away. All it takes is a few good games back to back. I don't care what he's hitting, I'd take him on my team right now."
Former Eagle Kyle Chastain plays for the league's DeLand Suns.
In addition, former Eagle Colt Hankamer plays for the Leesburg Thunder in the Florida Collegiate League's developmental program.
Plus, current Eagle Sam Machonis is participating in the Hampton's League for the Shelter Island Bucks in New York. It's one of the many leagues in the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball.
Corbeil is both grateful his players have been selected and proud to see them compete and improve.
"You basically have to be asked to play," he said of the Florida Collegiate Summer League. "They've done a great job and they've done it right. It's definitely worth it. There are some really good players in it from schools all over the country. They have a waiting list to get in it."
The league can also be a drawing card for recruiting.
One of the biggest differences from the college game to the summer league is the use of wood bats.
The ball reacts differently off a wooden bat than it does from the aluminum bats used in the college ranks. It's an adjustment for both pitchers and hitters.
Sweet, 19, has taken note, as has Serrano.
"It's one of the hardest things," said Sweet. "With a metal bat, you can get away with a lot. A wood bat makes you more aware of your swing."
For pitchers, they can throw to the inside of the plate without seeing their earned run averages soar.
"I can throw more inside and jam some of these hitters," said Serrano, 20.
He's been working on his change-up and two-seam fastball. Recently he's closed out a few more games now that the designated closer is hurt.
"I'm really happy," said Serrano of his pitching opportunity. "I'm getting more experience. I felt like I needed more innings. I'm getting the feel of it. This is very valuable."
"That should give him more confidence coming back to us," said Corbeil.
The league is more than just a training ground for the players.
It offers a big-time atmosphere.
The evening game crowds, especially at the Leesburg games, bring in 600-700 fans.
"It's a small taste of what you do when you walk into pro ball," said Corbeil.
The league draws its largest crowds in the Leesburg area.
"The community here is incredible," said Jones of Lightning games at Pat Thomas Stadium. "Fourth of July here — there was probably 1,000 people. It was legit. The fans loved it. It was a great time."
As a whole, Jones, who has played in the league for two years, has gobbled it up.
"I've made new friends from all kinds of places," Jones said. "I get to play the game I love and play baseball in front of hundreds of fans. It's a great time here."
In the past three seasons, the Eagles have won two Suncoast Conference titles, a state title and their first-ever NJCAA World Series berth.