Cloth-covered tables filled the first and third base lines and the area behind home plate Saturday night at Key West High School’s Rex Weech Field. Red and white balloons adorned the seashells and baseballs that were the centerpieces of each table.
Chef Martin Liz served a buffet dinner as former and future Conch baseball players, along with approximately 200 parents, coaches and supporters, gathered for the Dinner on the Diamond fundraiser for Key West baseball programs while preparing for Friday’s opening day of the high school baseball season.
Coach Ralph Henriquez introduced each college player, after his son, Ralphie Henriquez, introduced the young players who make up a sort of farm team for the high school Conches.
“You have a group of guys here who are going to put on the uniforms next Friday and carry on the tradition of Conch baseball,” organizer Jack Niles said of the 2022 varsity team, after introducing former greats from the Conch baseball, including Major Leaguer Boog Powell, who enjoyed tremendous success with the Baltimore Orioles. The Key West Conchs baseball team has won 11 state championship titles and is aiming for its 12th this year.
Former Conch and Major League Baseball umpire Rich Garcia was the keynote speaker. He has refereed two World Series and two perfect matches.
Ben Harrison, a former Conch State Champion who was named one of the University of Florida’s Top 10 Baseball Players of All Time, also spoke.
Rick Lopez, General Manager of Florida Keys Media Radio Stations and Voice of Conchs Radio Announcer, introduced 1998 State Champion Conch Christian Twyman.
“He was a scrappy ballplayer,” Lopez said. “Nothing escaped this kid, no matter what. And after graduation, he joined the army and became an army ranger, serving five tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
Chas Spottswood, who went to the College World Series, was there, along with state champion Bill Spottswood and Conch baseball legend Sam Holland, Sr. Saturday’s event was a Who’s Who of Key West baseball, with too of stars to be named.
“I just want to say how special this place is. When we won the state championship here, dive on that dog pile with all your best friends. Nothing beats those memories,” Harrison told this year’s varsity team, who were at dinner in their red and white striped jerseys. “We weren’t always the best team, but we thought we were. We’ve faced powerhouse Miami teams recruiting like varsity programs. And let me tell you, we kicked ass.
“This community uplifts us as a whole. The people here are beautiful, inside and out, and that made me the man I am today,” Twyman said.