Broward High School Baseball
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Stranahan Starting From Scratch Under Vargas

New Manager Frank Vargas runs infield drills

With award-winning academics including a magnet program in the engineering and medical fields, it’s plain to see that Stranahan High School is invested in the future of their students. If you take a look around their playing fields and facilities, it is also evident that Stranahan is extremely invested in the future of their athletes, including those in their baseball program.

From a beautiful playing surface to a weight room to a pitching machine and a batting cage, Stranahan has given its ballplayers all of the tangible tools they need to return the team to it’s former glory. They have also tried diligently to provide them with the intangibles needed to play the game. Although they struggled to do so in recent years past, they may have finally found the right man to equip the team with those ever-important fundamental building blocks this season.

During the four year span from 2011 to 2014, the Dragons went through three different managers. The entire time, Frank Vargas, a Dominican Republic native with a rich playing and coaching background, watched irritably from the sidelines as an assistant and from the stands as a father, knowing he could do better. After being hired during the off-season, Vargas came in and turned the program upside down. His philosophy was to tear everything down and start fresh from scratch in order to teach his guys how to play the game the right way.

“I’ve been in and out from the program for the last couple of years helping out as an assistant,” Vargas said. “I decided to come give them a hand this year because I know they need it. I know that there is no other way to go than up, so that is the mentality that we have. There’s no way we can get any worse so might as well start fresh from scratch, have a new recipe, come up from a new menu.”

Although it was a shock to them at first, Vargas’ knowledge of the game and the positive results stemming from his style of coaching have been noticed in abundance by his players.

“Everything has changed,” said returning senior Wilfred Santiago. “Everything is more organized. The flow of the practice we have now is a lot better. From infield to outfield and everything else, he knows a lot more than our past coaches.”

Knowing he only has a short four weeks in order to get his team molded in his image and into playing shape, Vargas has taken a no-nonsense approach at practice. Repetition is Vargas’ prescription. The ultimate advocate of the old adage practice makes perfect, Vargas will run a particular drill over and over until the team performs it flawlessly, no matter how long it may take.

Third baseman Jay Urbanik has seen the positive results that Vargas’ approach to teaching has had on him and his teammates’ performance.

Jay Urbanik makes a throw from third

“Last year, I couldn’t make those plays; I would bobble the ball a lot and let it go by me,” Urbanik said. “Now, since we have been practicing them over and over for the past four weeks, I’ve been able to field the ball much easier. Logan was somewhat the same at second and short, but now he catches them and gets them to first base no problem. We are just much more efficient.”

In accordance with his aforementioned stern approach, Vargas is tough on his guys but he is never one to single a player out. They are congratulated as a team; they are punished as a team. According to Urbanik, this has worked wonders in terms of building a brotherhood; in playing for each other and not just for themselves.

“He’s more hard on us when we do something wrong,” Urbanik said. “When one person does something wrong, everyone does laps in order to correct themselves. When we do something right, he congratulates all of us. It’s helped build our team chemistry.”

If there has been one guy who has faced some added pressure to succeed it has been Andy Vargas, Coach Vargas’ son. As a guy who has experience playing under his dad, Coach Vargas holds Andy to a bit of a higher standard.

“He’s played with me on travel teams so he’s already exposed to this,” Coach Vargas said. “He also goes home with his coach, spends a lot more time around me, and knows me the best. I expect him to lead by example.”

If that wasn’t enough, Andy’s brother, Ariel had a sparkling high school career in a Dragons uniform, including a 2013 senior year in which he batted over .500 and struck out 37 while walking just six and setting the bar for Andy to attempt to hurdle. Because of Andy’s competitive nature and the relationship he has with his brother, Coach Vargas believes Andy will push himself that much further.

“He knows he has some big shoes to fill,” Coach Vargas said. “I think he is up for the challenge.”

Andy Vargas makes the stretch at first base.

The Vargas brothers aren’t the only set of siblings at Stranahan that push each other to succeed. The Urbanik twins are constantly in competition with one another. The friendly sibling rivalry between Joseph, a strong armed left handed third baseman with good mechanics, and Damon a right handed line drive hitting outfielder is alive and well and something that has driven each twin to be a better player.

“We compete with each other all the time,” Joseph said. “If he drops the ball or something I’ll crack a joke on him and then he’ll come back with a good play. It’s been great to have him as a teammate.”

When it comes to the brand of results he is looking for out of his players against other teams, whether it be Andy, the Urbanik twins, or anyone else, there is no such thing. Starting from the drawing board again, Vargas understands you can’t beat other teams if you beat yourselves. Accordingly, what his eye will be on this season is how his team battles through adversity, how they remain positive, and how they remain consistent.

“We’re not trying to compete versus the other schools; we are just trying to compete versus ourselves and make sure that these guys learn how to play baseball the right way,” Vargas said. “You play hard, you have fun, you help each other out, and then let the outcome be whatever it is. Hard work, dedication, and consistency are things they haven’t had in a long time here so we will start with that.”

Overall, Santiago equates the team’s new leadership to good energy and effort. He believes that, although it may take time, the Dragons will eventually be Mighty again and a force to be reckoned with in Broward county.

“We have a good momentum going,” Santiago said. “Everyone is pushing themselves to be at 110%. When the time comes, you will see the results.”

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