On Wednesday night, 13 Polk State baseball students will take on Bing Tyus Yard for the final time.
The Eagles will celebrate Sophomore Night before hosting Hillsborough Community College. The sophomores have different stories about how they arrived at Polk State. The group consists of some three-year-old players who were granted an extra year of eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic and some transfers who will only spend one season with the Eagles.
Each will be honored before the regular season finale.
“It’s a beautiful night for them and their families…” said head coach Al Corbeil. “More than anything, I’m grateful for the time we’ve had with these guys, the character they have, the hard work they’ve put in and how we continue to build on each other every year because we’re us.” bring high quality kids who do well in the classroom and go to four-year schools.”
For the sophomores, their baseball career doesn’t end at the end of this season. Everyone is committed to a four-year school:
Name, position, nearest school
• Nick Collins, first baseman, Houston
• George Davis, fielder, Georgia Southwestern State
• Jack Duffy, outfielder/first baseman, Houston
• Kyle Ericson, catcher, Eckerd
• Carter Geier, second baseman, Mercer
• Skylar Gonzalez, Krug, South Florida
• Dakota Harris, shortstop, Tennessee
• Jacob Heath, Krug, West Florida
• Kade Manderscheid, Pitcher, West Florida
• Elijah McCormack, pitcher, Florida Tech
• Major Posey, Krug, West Florida
• Rohsean Riley, third baseman, Florida Southern
• Ethan Stephens, launcher, Florida Tech
Over the past two seasons, Polk State has won more than 60% of its games. The Eagles reached the state tournament last year and are hoping for better results as they return this season. As sophomores look back on their time as Eagles, there are a number of memories and emotions.
For Ericson and Duffy, everyone remembered last year’s regular season finale. It was unclear if the Eagles would make the state tournament. After defeating St. Petersburg College, Polk State needed Florida SouthWestern State to knock off State College of Florida to advance.
“My fondest memory is last year (when) we won the last game of the season and we were in the dressing room waiting to find out if we secured our place in the state tournament,” Ericson recalled. “When we did that, it was really fun to celebrate.”
For pitchers Gonzalez and McCormack, their best memories didn’t seem to be funny back then.
“Before we’ve ever touched a ball, we were out here fixing the fences, shoveling rocks, tending the edges and doing things that don’t normally get done,” McCormack said.
For Gonzalez, he recalled what the program dubbed “Mental Health Week” — a week dedicated to strengthening the mind and body — with challenges starting at 5 a.m
“We’re just doing a couple of challenges that are really testing us mentally,” he said. “The practice was really tough… It sucks right now but looking back on it now it was a lot of fun and I’m really happy that I was able to challenge myself with my teammates.”
As student-athletes, it’s natural to be competitors. For Manderscheid and Davis, they recalled friendly non-baseball competitions.
“My best memory is proving to myself and my teammates that I’m the best cornhole player around here by winning the cornhole tournament,” Davis said.
“My fondest memory was my first year playing handball in my apartment, throwing the ball as hard as possible and just having a good time,” recalls Manderscheid.
Stephens was glad he got to play in the state tournament last season. He allowed just one three-hit run in four innings of relief against Miami Dade.
“I came here as a career changer,” Stephens said. “Being able to play a role here is a good feeling.”
Polk State lost that contest to Miami Dade 9-6. Duffy said he will never forget how it all began.
“I hit a home run lead off to start the game,” Duffy recalled.
Heath, closer to the team, recalled a road trip to the Florida capital. The team stayed for several days and not in a hotel.
“My freshman year, we loaded up the vans for a three-game set in Tallahassee, where we camped in the woods between games,” chuckled Heath. “We had some good times there.”
For Collins, a hard-hitting first baseman, it was hard to pinpoint it in one moment.
“I’m going to look back on all the morning workouts and the time we spent on the field lifting weights, all the competitions we had out here and all the bus rides,” he said. “They just all add up and it’s great times.”
What it means to be a Polk State Eagle
When players thought about what it means to be part of the Polk State program, two little words often came up – “a lot.”
“It meant a lot to me to be a part of this program,” Riley said. “I met a lot of new people who will be friends forever and I had a great experience with the coaches and formed a really great bond that will never be broken.”
Manderscheid appreciates the foundation of excellence that was laid prior to his arrival.
“‘Corbs’ put a lot of hard work into this program,” he said. “Every guy that comes out of this program is a really hard worker, badass, and we all love it.”
Ericson and Harris expressed similar views.
“A lot of great players have come through here,” said Ericson. “There’s a lot of great history here, especially under Coach Corbeil, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
“It’s definitely an honor to be part of this program,” Harris said. “You see the people who have been here and the way the coaches treat you is obviously like no other.”
For Posey, Polk State offered a chance to heal.
“When I came out of UCF I was injured and when I got here I didn’t know if I could throw without pain,” Posey mused. “‘Corbs’ has really helped me a lot and grown me as a person.”
Personal growth through baseball
Collins said when he first arrived in Polk State, academics were not a priority. He was almost academically unfit but could turn things around.
“This program changed my life in many ways,” he recalls. “When I came here, I wasn’t the best student. I didn’t have a lot of confidence as a person. The way this program works and how we compete has helped me grow overall.”
For Geier and many others, growth has come through hard work.
“Obviously this program has been very successful,” says Mercer. “The hard work we put in teaches you a lot as a person.”
“As a man, I’ve become a lot more mature and responsible,” Ericson said. “Coaches find ways to make everyone accountable for which you have to hold yourself accountable.”
Heath has learned not to dwell on the past or look too far into the future and to be persistent.
“I think the way I’ve grown is mostly a perspective on life and learning that every day is a new opportunity to achieve the things I strive for in life,” he said. “It doesn’t matter about the… day before or even about the next day. It’s all about the moment… and getting the best out of yourself.”