Elliott Bonner was at the annual national football foundation convention a few years ago when he heard American Heritage was about to get rid of its baseball coach.
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Bonner, an assistant baseball coach at Stoneman Douglas since 1997, knew Todd Fitz-Gerald since his days of coaching he and his buddies with the Coral Springs National Little League squad.
Fitz-Gerald had coached Heritage to a state and national championship in 2008 and was named a national coach of the year while with the Patriots yet he was about to be let go.
Bonner couldn’t wait to get to a phone and then return to South Florida to start the sales tactic.
“I was kind of instrumental in getting him to Douglas when he got fired. I begged him to come here,’’ Bonner said Saturday afternoon as Douglas -- and Fitz-Gerald -- celebrated the school’s first state baseball championship following a 3-0 win over Columbus for the Class 9A crown.
“He was a little hesitant at first, but I’m glad he joined us. I knew he could take us to the next level.”
Bonner was also celebrating his first state baseball championship.
A long-time coach in northwest Broward County, Bonner joined Jim Mathisen at the new school in Parkland when it opened in 1992 before joining the baseball staff when Dean Florio took over in 1997.
The Eagles had a good number of teams which could have come this far, only this is the first Douglas team to even reach the state final four.
On Friday, in the school’s first-ever state semifinal, the Eagles beat Winter Garden’s West Orange.
Saturday, the Eagles put a cap on their season with a 3-0 victory secured thanks to three runs off two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Fitz-Gerald came into his postgame press conference wearing the state and national championship rings won at Heritage.
“I don’t wear them, bring them out much but I did this week,’’ said Fitz-Gerald, the first baseball coach to win state championships at two separate schools in Broward County.
“I passed them around to the guys, let them now this is something they can’t take away from you. Even if it was years ago, you’re still a champion. We had so much baseball tradition but we just couldn’t get over the hump.’’
Fitz-Gerald went to American Heritage and helped build a powerhouse baseball program yet then-AD Jeff Dellenbach -- the former Dolphin lineman -- had decided to clean house.
Bonner pushed Fitz-Gerald to join the public school ranks at Douglas yet there were some hurdles.
Although Fitz-Gerald taught physical education at Heritage, Douglas needed a science teacher.
After passing his certification test, Fitz-Gerald has taught science as well as baseball at Douglas the past five years.
“This is the best decision I’ve ever made, coming to Douglas High School,’’ he said. “This is my fifth year here and we’ve done some great things. The program is really going in the right direction.’’
With Douglas making history just by reaching the state finals, a few big leaguers let the Eagles know they should aim at winning it all.
Eric Hosmer, the World Series hero of the Royals who played for Fitz-Gerald at Heritage, tweeted out a picture of his championship ring extolling the Douglas players to aim for the jewelry.
Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ All-Star who once roamed the Douglas outfield, not only cheered his school on but sent out a congratulatory tweet moments after the Eagles won it.
“It opened our eyes and made us feel like everyone was watching us,’’ said Douglas pitcher Brady Norris. “It was like this game was on ESPN and everyone in the world knew about us. All these big leaguers played at our schools, played in the surrounding area. I never thought MLB players would be tweeting us out.’’
For Fitz-Gerald, seeing former players still pay attention isn’t a surprise.
He and his players are extremely close, one telling Fitz-Gerald “I love you” as they embraced in a spare locker room underneath jetBlue Park.
“You know I love you too,” Fitz-Gerald said in return.
A few minutes earlier, Fitz-Gerald said “these guys, I’m going to miss them. This was all about them.”
Bonner smiled when he saw Fitz-Gerald hugging his players, new gold medals draped around their neck.
In 23 years of Douglas baseball, the Eagles had never felt like this.
“It takes leadership to get where we’ve gone now and everyone follows him,’’ Bonner said. “Fitz is a born leader and that’s what we needed. The kids love him, but he has brought discipline. They know when he says go, you better go. I’m very glad he’s here.”