Panther Baseball Coach’s Corner
Rick Hitt began his 24th year as the longest tenured coach in Panther Baseball history this past August. In May 2020, Hitt was selected to be inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, and he will be inducted this May 2022. Hitt is currently in two addtional Halls of Fame, the Santa Fe College Hall of Fame as a member of the 1985 State Championship and National Tournament Team, and the Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA) Hall of Fame. Hitt began his coaching career 34 years ago as an assistant coach at Sebring High School.
In the past 13 years, Hitt has completed terms as the NJCAA Coaches Association secretary, vice president, and served five years as the association’s president which included six years as a member of the NJCAA National Team staff. Hitt is currently the FCSAA State Baseball Chairperson for Region 8 in Florida and served 16 years on the FCSAA State Baseball Committee.
In June 2017 at the American Baseball Coaches Association National meetings in Omaha, Hitt was selected as the fourth vice president of the ABCA, an extremely prestigious honor as he became only the third NJCAA coach in the two-year system to be selected to join the ABCA presidency. At the 2022 Convention and Board of Directors meetings in Chicago, Hitt will assume the reigns of the ABCA Coaches Association presidency. “It is a complete honor to become the ABCA President this coming year. It is a tremendous organization with incredible people.”
Hitt is a member of the ABCA Executive Committee, ABCA Board of Directors, and the ABCA Standing Committee, serving coaches of the sport at all levels.
In his tenure as a head coach, Hitt has seen over 170 players move on to four-year school and/or professional baseball. Hitt’s expectations of the players are simple: “Dedicate yourself to being an outstanding young man and representative of SFSC daily, commit to academic accountability and graduation, and play the greatest game in the world as hard as you can play it each day you get the chance. The growth that occurs within this process has the opportunity to stay with you as you venture on in life.”
Hitt and his wife Jayma recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary together. They have two daughters, both SFSC graduates: Sydney and Cassady. Both daughters have joined their mother as teachers in the Highlands County School District where Jayma is currently in her 35th and final year as an elementary educator.
As a pitcher at Santa Fe Community College, Hitt helped the Saints to a third-place finish in the 1985 NJCAA World Series playing for NJCAA and ABCA Hall of Fame coach Harry Tholen. Hitt completed his baseball playing career at St. Thomas University, where he played for former LSU coach and 2014 ABCA Hall of Fame inductee Paul Mainieri.
“I was blessed to have played for two highly respected coaches and outstanding people during my collegiate career,” Hitt said. “It is not often one can say they played for two coaches who are Hall of Famers. I am very grateful for the opportunity they provided me.”
Most recently, Hitt and his wife Jayma were honored to have been selected to serve on the board of the Kim Gose Cancer Research Foundation, established by the Gose family following the passing of Panther fan and friend Kim Gose. The local organization provides funding to families as well as funding for cancer research.
When not at the ballpark, Hitt enjoys spending time at home with his family and pets.
Hitt and his players look forward to the ride in 2022. “It is a great game, and one of the reasons why is the enjoyment of taking the ride with a great group of people around you,” Hitt said. “My hope is our players will embrace that and enjoy the opportunities this season presents.”
Coach Brad Crone is a native of Fort Myers, Fla. who relocated to the Toronto, Ontario area following college. Crone, who begins his second year as a South Florida State College assistant coach, will work with hitters, outfielders, and first basemen. Crone played at SFSC from 2004-2005. As a former Panther, he helped lead the team to the 2004 State Tournament with a school record of 38 games won. In his two years at SFSC, he helped the team win over 70 games, awarding him All Conference honors, team hitter of the year, and the team MVP award in 2005.
Previously, Crone worked Perfect Game showcases, coached at the high school level as an assistant for the Ontario Royals from 2015-2019, and is also head of baseball development training at Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario.
After his time at SFSC, he attended Seneca College in Toronto and graduated with a Turf Management/Business diploma. Crone also received his scouting certification from Sports Management Worldwide. He resides in the Toronto area with his wife Jena and their two sons, Keilan and Taysen.
Coach Andy Polk enters his second season back at South Florida State College but his 10th total. Polk was the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Webber International University from 2017-2020.
At Webber, Coach Polk’s pitching staff have ranked in the top-21 in the NAIA in earned run average (ERA) during each of his first two seasons, and have ranked in the top-20 in walks per nine innings each year with a top-10 ranking in 2018. Also in 2018, the Warriors’ pitching staff set a new program record for strikeouts with 439.
Polk has coached several All-Conference performers during his time at Webber, including the 2019 Sun Conference Pitcher of Year and First Team All American, Zak Spivy. Spivy led the nation both years at Webber in Complete Games and Innings Pitched. Polk’s staff also set numerous school records, including strikeouts (individual and team), wins (individual and team), and walks per game (individual and team).
Before Webber, Coach Polk spent nine years as an assistant coach at South Florida State College. He assisted in all aspects of the program but primarily worked with the pitching staff. As a former Panther player, he helped lead the team to the 2004 Regional Tournament. That team won a school-record 38 games, and in his two years at SFSC, the team won 71 games. He was selected to play in the State All-Star Game in Lakeland during his sophomore year.
Following his SFSC career, Polk moved on to NCAA Division-II Florida Southern College, where he helped the Moccasins to the Regional Tournament in 2006. He then transferred to NAIA Webber International University, where he finished his playing career and degree. Following his college career, he signed a professional contract with the Charlotte County Redfish of the South Coast League. He finished his professional career as a 2008 Frontier League All-Star for the Chillicothe Paints.
Coach Polk holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in business administration with a focus on sports management from Webber International University. He lives in Sebring with his wife Candra and their daughters Lilah June and Frankie, and their dog Zeus.