Bruce Aven

It’s been a decade since Bruce Aven’s name appeared daily in the major league baseball box scores. Actually it’s been nearly 10 years to the day that he last played in a major league baseball game—on May 27, 2002.

The Orange native’s name certainly has been popping up pretty regularly in South Florida as his high school baseball team—American Heritage Academy—captured the Class 5A state baseball championship Friday night 9-0 over Ponte Vedra at Port St. Lucie.

And American Heritage Academy is not a strange school to those who follow high school baseball’s elite teams as the Patriots (27-4) were ranked as the No. 6 team in the nation according to ESPN and Baseball America. The Patriots also won a state baseball title in 2008.

But the road to the state title for American Heritage Academy was tough, especially Thursday’s semifinal game against Tampa Jesuit (28-2), ranked as the nation’s No. 1 team by both ESPN and Baseball America.

Jesuit featured pitcher Lance McCullers, who entered the game against the Patriots with a 12-0 record, a miniscule 0.11 ERA and a fast ball that is reportedly in the upper 90’s mph. He is expected to be a first-round pick in the June 4 Major League Draft.

McCullers pitched six shutout innings against the Patriots, which lowered his ERA even more. But he was taken out after throwing 93 pitches because he had thrown 138 pitches in his previous start. However, his mound opponent Shaun Anderson matched him zero for zero.

The game was still scoreless at the end of the regulation seven innings until the Patriots’ ninth-place hitter Brandon Diaz slugged a two-out, three-run homer in the eighth inning, giving Aven’s team a 3-0 win against the nation’s top-ranked team and advancing the Patriots to the Class 5A state championship game against Ponte Verde (21-8).

Friday’s championship game was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. but because of inclement weather the first pitch didn’t come until 9:15.

The game was scoreless until the third inning when the Patriots loaded the bases and scored on a walk. Then catcher Zach Collins ripped a shot off the right field foul pole for a grand slam and American Heritage Academy was in business.

The Patriots added a four-run fifth inning highlighted by a two-run home run by Esteban Puerta and coasted to a 9-0 victory and the state championship.

American Heritage Academy is a K through 12th grade private school located in Plantation, Fl. which is about 25 miles from both Fort Lauderdale and Miami. It is a college prep school for students wanting to go into such fields as law, medicine, engineering and education. Students who do not get accepted to a four-year college or university do not graduate.

Bruce Aven was born in Orange and was educated in the West Orange-Cove School District. He was a member of the Mustang football program coached by Dan Hooks and the baseball team coached by Ronnie Anderson.

He attended and played baseball for the Lamar Cardinals coached by Jim Gilligan and was talented enough to play professionally and made his major league debut on Aug. 27, 1997.

Bruce played with four different organizations during his major league career: the Cleveland Indians (1997 and 2002), Florida Marlins (1999), Pittsburgh Pirates (2000) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2000-2001).

When his playing days were over Bruce and his wife Mary Ann decided on the South Florida area to settle down and raise their family.

Bruce designed the Memorial Sports Center Baseball and Softball Strength Program in 2004 which has been a very successful enterprise.

The program complements the hitting, fielding and pitching skills taught in the baseball and softball programs by helping to develop players’ strength, speed and attitude. Emphasis is placed not only on reaching the goals set for the athletes, but teaching them how to work in-season as well as off-season.

When the head baseball position became available last fall at American Heritage Academy, Aven was the perfect choice with all of his baseball background.

The school also hired a new athletic director, Jeff Dallenbach, a 6-6, 300-pound former NFL lineman who played 15 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.

“Although I never coached more than a few summer teams,” Aven confessed, “I learned how to coach by being around good coaches, especially those at West Orange-Stark like Dan Hooks, Cornel Thompson, Mark Foreman and especially baseball coach Ronnie Anderson. I expect the same work ethic as my Mustang coaches did.”

Aven’s father-in-law, Judge Pat Clark, traveled to Florida to watch Bruce coach the Patriots and said he thought he was looking at a “mini-Ronnie Anderson.”

After winning the state championship, Aven said he heard that one of the high school national polls—Perfect Games—has his Patriots ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“We have a beautiful set-up here, almost like a mini-college, that can’t be matched,” Aven said proudly Sunday in our telephone interview. “The kids who play in this baseball program expect to win—just like they do in the Mustang football program.

“The toughest thing was coming into this program and showing the young men how I do things,” Aven continued. “Regardless of what happened in the past, each player had to earn his starting position this spring. It took a lot of time and effort to do things right, but it paid off with a state championship.”

Aven said that there are upward to 30 college and major league scouts at a Patriots baseball game. “We have nine players—both seniors and juniors—committed to Division I schools,” Aven said proudly. “Our shortstop should get drafted in the third-to-fifth round in the upcoming MLB draft and we have a pitcher who has drawn the attention of scouts from Seattle and Milwaukee.”

Sunday was Graduation Day that involved six of his baseball players. “I lost three of my four starting pitchers, who will be very hard to replace,” Aven said.

And just to verify the popularity of baseball in South Florida, the high school program ended Saturday and the summer baseball program began Sunday.

KWICKIES…Although he has been retired from baseball for nearly 20 years, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd is still making some of his teammates mad according to this week’s issue of  USA Today Sports Weekly.  Boyd, who has been promoting his autobiography due out next month, accused former Hall of Fame teammate Wade Boggs of being a bigot and using a racial slur daily. “I don’t think Boggs is a bigot, I know it,” Boyd said. Boggs vehemently objected to Boyd’s accusation. “You have a delusional drug addict who let not only his family down, but his team, the city of Boston and the Red Sox Nation when it counted most,” Boggs fired back when interviewed by WEII radio in Boston. “Now he wants the good people of Boston to go out and spend money on this garbage to support his habit. I find that extremely amusing.” Boyd and Boggs played together in Boston for eight seasons (1982-89). Boyd acknowledged this month that he smoked marijuana every day and was high while talking to the radio show hosts.

Sunset Grove Country Club golfer Jimmy Sattler fired a hole-in-one last week on the 143-yard par 3 No. 12 hole. He recorded his ace with a seven-iron which was witnessed by Lynn Ashcraft.

Congrats to long-time West Orange-Stark defensive line coach Ed Dyer who was named the new offensive coordinator by Head Coach Cornel Thompson. Dyer has coached both offense and defense for the Mustangs. Thompson is still looking for two assistant coaches to fill his staff.

Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico was almost a video replay of the Kentucky Derby as favorite Bodemeister held the lead for a mile and then was overtaken again in the home stretch by I’ll Have Another, who is unbeaten in four starts this year. I’ll Have Another is the first horse since Big Brown to win the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978. The final leg of the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes, which will be run June 9 at the New York track. I’ll Have Another will try to make racing history, but Bodemeister won’t be there. The owner of Dullahan, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, plans to have his colt entered June 9, although Dullahan skipped the Preakness.

JUST BETWEEN US…Two Orange County teams are still alive and pursuing a state championship. The Bridge City Cardinals fell behind Huffman 5-0 in the early going but used an home run and double by shortstop Zach Smith and some clutch relief pitching by Hayden Guidry to pull out a 7-5 victory in the winner-take-all one-game playoff. The No. 2-ranked Redbirds advanced to the regional semifinals against No. 1 Waco Robinson this week. They will play one game, winner-take-all game Saturday at 6 p.m. at College Park High School in The Woodlands. The Little Cypress-Mauriceville Lady Bears needed three games to subdue a stubborn Richmond Foster team, winning Saturday’s rubber game 2-0 behind the shutout pitching of Raven Cole and the stellar relief of Hope Russell in the seventh inning. The Lady Bears will meet Montgomery in the Region III Finals for a best-of-three series beginning at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs.) at Port Arthur Memorial High School. The two teams will play again Friday at the same time at Montgomery. If a third game is necessary it will be played 6 p.m. Saturday at Montgomery.