Broward High School Baseball
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Stranahan Charging Forward Under New Manager Iannatto

Marc Iannatto has the Dragons working harder than they’ve ever known, as they push to return the program to its glory days.

Marc Iannatto is ready to take hold of the reins and lead the Dragons further down the path they began under their former manager.

The team’s new skipper takes over after serving as an assistant under John Drouet last year, replacing the Stranahan alum after Drouet’s business commitments moved him to Jacksonville. The program has evolved over the past few years, and Iannatto is proud to help them maintain familiarity as they work to take the next step.

It was not that long ago that the team struggled simply to field enough players necessary to compete. Now there are position battles and depth charts filling up, and they are becoming a team full of guys who want to be there. They want to work and they want to compete.

“It’s a good set of kids and the kids want to be here,” Iannatto said. “They want to practice and they want to learn. It’s still a very young team and the majority of them are freshmen and sophomores. We will have our heartaches and aches and pains, but if we learn young enough they can learn to utilize that for when they are juniors and seniors themselves.”

One change that has been enacted is that the program will not field a junior varsity squad, choosing instead to incorporate everyone into the same group together. The players need the practice time with each other, and even though they may not all be ready for varsity baseball yet, they get to learn at this level. While this also creates logjams at some positions, the chance to work with groups of teammates and compete for a spot is helpful in bringing the club along quicker.

This is the first head coaching job for Iannatto, who himself played for years before graduating from South Plantation in 2002. Baseball is in his blood and he is excited to have the responsibility all on himself for the first time. He can remember what a force Stranahan was known to be back in his playing days, and now he gets to be the guy to steer them back in that direction.

Although many of the guys are new to the varsity program, most of them have played baseball with one another for years. They are familiar with one another, now they just need to translate that onto this team.

“We had guys out here before who had never touched a baseball before in their life, but we’ve actually gotten away from that a little bit,” Iannatto said. “We’ve got guys who want to play baseball, know how to play baseball, and come out here to get it done. When you come out to play a sport, you have to want to play that sport. These guys want to be here.”

The program only graduated one guy from last season, but it also happened to be their top player both on the mound and at the plate in Ariel Vargas. The club leaned heavily on Vargas a year ago, particularly on the mound. So this year the team has developed their staff to go as many as nine guys deep.

Both Jose Lopez and Chris Ford return to anchor the front of the rotation, and other veterans like Logan Castellanos, Austin Ford and John Johnson will also get some work on the hill this season. Many newcomers to the program are also starting to shine on the rubber, giving the team the chance to use their depth as a major advantage.

“If we get into trouble early, I can throw somebody else in. If they get into trouble I can go with somebody else too,” Iannatto said. “If they can go long innings, then so be it. The whole thing is they are so ecstatic to play they do anything I ask them. As long as they are playing, they know what they have to get done behind the scenes. They are just so eager to get the job done.”

Sophomore Austin Ford hits grounders during fielding drills during a spring practice.

Chris Ford is perhaps the most experienced hurler, and the one who has stepped forward to fill the leadership void left open by Ariel Vargas. The senior is a four-year starter who has been instrumental to the slow turnaround in this program. Now he enters his final year ready to set the tone, and enjoy one last season of varsity baseball with his teammates and his younger brother Austin.

“I just listen to him and follow what he is doing,” said Austin Ford. “We look up to each other and help each other out so we can make each other better. We have a lot more kids out here and it makes us compete more. We have a coach who is trying hard and working us harder so we can compete. It’s not just for fun anymore.”

Even though the program has not elevated its play back to the success the school has seen in its long, deep history, things are moving in that direction. People at the school have started to take notice and recently administration even helped donate new equipment to aid them along. The players admit it feels good that people in the school are thinking about them.

During the fall Iannatto went around to the other sports programs in the school to help find some new players for the program. Through this process they have added some new guys to the roster, and they are quickly finding out that some of them have some pop in their bats.

“Even though they are fresh and new, when they connect with that ball they can really hit it,” Iannatto said. “They just need more innings against live pitching. They just need that experience now.”

The returning veterans also have improved their hitting. Kenny Stanley, Wilfred Santiago and the two Ford brothers are among the main guys expected to stabilize the middle of the lineup.

Santiago is a third-year starter who is also crucial to the team’s outfield defense, which is the strength of the defensive unit. The senior is one of the guys who joined the team without any prior playing experience, and now he has evolved his game to the point that the team trusts that he will track down everything hit out to him.

“I’m Puerto Rican and it’s in my blood,” Santiago joked about his natural speed to run down fly balls. “Once that ball comes up I am there to chase it down. I try to be a leader and do my best to help the team with what they need. They ask me questions and I try to teach them. I’m trying to show them the fundamentals. If they pick it up and get it quicker than they are ready to play ball. We have good chemistry and communication on the field and off the field. We are just there for each other.”

The Dragons play Pembroke Pines Charter very early in the season, and they plan to use that as the test to see what they need to get done. Iannatto admits his biggest challenge will be to learn how to see it on the field and then learn how to teach the players how to fix it in practice. Success does not come overnight, and they know there is still a long way to go. Yet they are also excited to know they are working hard and things are moving in that direction.

“I would love for these kids to step up and show their true potential and really be a team to be feared someday,” Iannatto said. “Thanks to John, my job is not as difficult. But there’s obviously still a lot more work that needs to be done.”

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