BASEBALL: Spottswood Has Deep UF Roots

When he was young, Florida freshman pitcher Chas Spottswood never dreamt of suiting up for the Braves, Yankees, or Red Sox. In fact, suiting up in the Orange and Blue was a thought that simply didn't come to mind. Spottswood made short term goals his target. Role playing in the family backyard was specifically limited to leading Key West High School to yet another state championship. Mission accomplished.

"In Key West, we don't have the opportunity to recruit like some of the private schools in Miami," Spottswood said. "In our district was Gulliver who is always nationally ranked. In our region was Pace, who throughout the year was ranked number one in the nation. Florida, particularly south Florida, probably has the best level of baseball in the nation. We travel probably more than anyone in the state. Our closest game is always two hours away- on a school bus. All of the others are three to three and a half hours away minimum.

"You would think that it would be unfair, but playing in Key West we've all been playing together since T-ball," he continued. "The same kids have been playing together on the same teams so we really get to know each other and how the others work. When I was young coming up with my brother and all of us, it was baseball --- the thing to do. I remember watching little league baseball and never really watching major league baseball on TV. I thought that Key West High School was major league baseball. Most kids were probably out in their backyard saying, bottom of the ninth World Series. My dream was to play Key West High School baseball. I was thinking to myself, state championship game --- Key West High School."

The question Florida fans are asking is if Spottswood is playing out that role for the Gators each day that he steps on the mound during practice sessions at McKethan Stadium?

Last May, the 6-4, 190-pound right hander delivered mightily as the Conchs churned toward their record 11th state championship. In four playoff games, Spottswood consistently mowed down the opposition. He completed three of those contests, saving his best performance for his last time ever in a Conch uniform. It was in the state semifinals against highly touted Pensacola Catholic.

Spottswood hit the Crusaders leadoff hitter, but struck out the next two batters and secured a ground out to end any potential Catholic threat in the top of the first. The senior, who missed his prom to pitch that night, responded by striking out the side in the second and never looked back. Only one other batter reached base and that was on an error by the shortstop. Only one ball left the infield.

He finished with a complete game, no-hitter in which he fanned ten Crusaders and didn't yield a walk. Key West moved into the championship game with a 9-0 victory and inspiration to blast Orlando Bishop Moore 7-0 in the final, posting all seven runs in the first inning at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

Spottswood's four-game run through the FHSAA playoffs included a perfect 0.00 ERA. He gave up only nine hits in 25 innings pitched. That's right, 25 consecutive scoreless innings. It is one of the most memorable playoff runs in state history.

His performance merely added another impressive chapter to Key West's rich baseball tradition. It's a program that has the entire city fired up every spring. Some 1500 fans traveled with the team to Sarasota for the state final four.

The Conchs won their first title in 1953. A dynasty was begun with that first title, which saw the school win five state championships in seven years. Five of the last six head coaches at Key West High School have either shared in (as an assistant) or outright won a state championship. That includes current coach Ralph Enriques, who once coached the Danville Braves.

"Randy Sterling is a local guy," Chas' father, Bill Spottswood recalled. "He was drafted number three, I think, by the New York Mets, the year they won the World Series. He was one of Chas' pitching coaches. Actually, he was in the bullpen in Sarasota when Chas threw the no-hitter against Pensacola Catholic. Sterling's son, Randy Jr. received a scholarship from the University of Florida back in 1996, I believe. He was a pitcher there under Andy Lopez.

"Key West is a good little community that loves baseball. Boog Powell played for state championships in the '50's. George Mira played on those championship teams. Carl Taylor, who was with the Yankees, played here. He was Boog's half-brother. When you have eleven state titles at a public school on a little two by four island, that's pretty impressive in my opinion."

It's not difficult to see where Chas gets his determination. He comes from a very accomplished family. His father, Bill played on the Conchs 1969 state title squad, graduated from Florida, and is a respected attorney in Key West. His mother, Andrea has just been inducted into the Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. She'll be part of a ceremony on April 21st that includes Danny Wuerffel and Wayne McDaniel. She was captain of the national championship cheerleading squad in 1973 and the first All-American cheerleader at the University of Florida. She is also a past present of the National Alumni Association.

His brother, Billy, was a member of Key West's '98 state title team. He walked on at Florida under Pat McMahon, but just missed the final cut. He is currently enrolled in the Florida Law School. Billy introduced Chas to many of Gators' players which obviously afforded him a closer look at the program and the coaching staff. His sister, Lande, attended Harvard and was the youngest sports editor in the history of the Harvard Crimson. Her last column for The Crimson was focused directly on Chas and the Conchs state championship in Sarasota last spring (Atta girl!). She has also written for the University of Florida Sports Information Department, including a feature story on now former Florida lineman Max Starks.

"I was on the Key West team that won the state title in 1969," Bill Spottswood recalled. "My oldest son, Billy, was on the state championship team in 1998. That was the year Khalil Green was the starting shortstop on that team. Brooks Carey, who played with Cal Ripken Jr. for so many years, was the coach of that team. People have told me that they don't think a father and two sons have ever won three state baseball titles on three different teams."

Furthermore, Chas' great-grandfather, Robert Spottswood, was a semi-pro baseball player out of Jacksonville. Spottswood played for the Florida Bombers. The catcher on that team was J.P. Arencibia (Tennessee). He also played against Brian Van Kirk (Tennessee) and against several players who are currently on the University of Miami roster. The Bombers are the first and only Florida squad to make it to the Connie Mack World Series.

The mental aspect of pitching is the most difficult tasks to master for pitchers, especially freshman pitchers. The players at the collegiate level are so much better than most have ever faced in high school. Spottswood endured many struggles early in his high school career that should serve him well now.

Perhaps nobody understands that better than Brooks Carey, a pitching coach for the Conchs. Carey was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and roomed with Cal Ripken Jr. for six years. He has been a part of the game since he could pick up a glove. He has worked with Spottswood for many years. He recalled asking why anybody would make Chas a pitcher after seeing him throw for the first time.

"I've been back now since '87 coaching," Carey said. "We've had some great teams and some great pitchers. Of all the ones that I've seen who actually have the best chance to see a big league career is Chas. The funny thing about it is that he was a slow starter. We've had a lot of guys who won ten or eleven games as a sophomore. He (Chas) got beat up pretty good during his sophomore and even during his junior year. He went from 6-1, 160 pounds to 6-4, 190 and he seemed to be trying to get coordinated and get it all together. He didn't have an easy ride through his career at Key West High. He really worked to improve and I think that will help him tremendously at the next level."

"He also didn't pitch a lot of innings during those years, which is a big plus," Carey continued. "I think the scouts understand that more than they understand anything else. He threw seventy-five or eighty innings his senior year. He isn't one of those overused kids. In the second half of his senior year, he was as good as anybody that I've coached or coached against and we play against a lot of top schools in Dade County."

Spottswood seemingly put it all together after enduring a bad outing his senior year. He began to work on the art of pitching.

"We went to Atlanta in mid-season and he got pounded," Bill Spottswood said of his son. "He didn't get the loss, but they put nine runs on him in the first two innings. When we got home he said, 'Dad, I've got to do something different.' He got fired up. He went 13-2 and made first team All-State. He's my son, but I've been around baseball a long time and that was impressive. He doesn't wear his feelings on his sleeve and he really has a short term memory."

"In high school, to tell you the truth, I really wasn't as good (at spotting pitches) as I'm working on right now," Chas Spottswood said. "I kind of threw more than I pitched. I could overpower a lot of kids. I focused in the playoffs, concentrating on hitting my spots and I did that. Everything was on. Our defense was solid and we hit the ball well."

He got his first taste of big time college baseball this past fall, where he played with and against the likes of Matt LaPorta, Adam Davis, Brian Jeroloman, and Brian LeClerc every day.

"In high school, I mostly tried to overpower people," Chas stated. "That doesn't happen here. I knew that's how it would be. LeClerc got one (home run) off of me. That's the only one that I gave up. They got their share of hits off of me, but I adjusted pretty well.

"Bryan Ball has been one of my good friends for a couple of years now since I've been coming up here with my brother. He, Bryan, and Ben Harrison were good friends. Now that I'm here playing, I look to him to show me what I'm doing wrong. The coaching staff is quick to tell you what you need to do when you need help."

Throwing after Florida's fall practice had ended allowed Carey to note differences in his star pupil.

"He came back from the fall (practice at Florida) and the one change that I noticed more than anything else was that his focus and desire to become the best pitcher that he could be was clearly evident," Brooks Carey said. "He's very low key and very mellow. He never let's things get to him, really.

"His breaking ball if you rated it on a major league scale would be very good. He throws the ball 91-92 right now and he hasn't matured physically where he'll be in the future. I think that he'll throw 94-95 before too long. At least, that's what I think he'll be throwing. I've talked to a lot of scouts about him and they said that he'll probably be 6-5, 220, with six percent body fat. He has long arms. He's a great athlete, who runs a 6.6 sixty. He has tremendous potential."

"I've maxed out at 94 late last year," Chas said. "I just throw fastballs, curveballs, and I've been trying to develop a change. I'm excited to be here. My Mom has always been the biggest Gator fan ever. I've always been a big Gator fan. It's like a dream come true."

Spottswood already fulfilled a dream that began in the backyard of the family home in Key West. The manner in which he ran roughshod through the FHSAA playoffs have most certainly served to inspire some young guns to pick up a glove and ball, role playing that they too are Chas Spottswood; leading the Conchs to another state championship and determined to help the Gators toward yet another SEC crown.

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