J.D. Urso -- teenage son of head coach -- is Tampa superfan
CARY, N.C. -- J.D. Urso stared intently at the field, hanging on every pitch, every swing of the bat, every move.
Once in a while, he would shout what had to have been encouragement toward the field.
"C'mon! Hotbread! We need some Hotbread!"
Hotbread? Yep. It's somehow become the rallying cry of Tampa's baseball team at crucial points of the game -- a big pitch, a rally here, a defensive play there. Need something done, anything basically, and it's time for Hotbread.
There are T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, and heck, Tampa actually brings a working toaster into the dugout for every game. So, yes … that is, in fact, burnt toast you smell.
So dedicated is 12-year-old J.D. that mom Julie even allowed him to have "Hotbread" shaved into the back of his closely cropped hair. Not to be outdone, his younger brother Preston has a Tampa logo adorning his noggin.
During Tampa's loss to Grand Valley State in the NCAA Division II tournament on Thursday afternoon, J.D. had a foul ball land almost in his lap as he watched the game from down the third-base line. He promptly chunked it back onto the field because, said Julie, it had been hit by a Lakers batter.
The look on his face said it all.
If it didn't come from Tampa, it just ain't worth it.
Joe Urso has been Tampa's head baseball coach for 13 years now. Facts are facts, and the fact is this. Joe and his team have no bigger supporters than his wife and kids.
A lot of kids love baseball, and then there's J.D. As it turns out, he's not a bad interview, either. So, exactly how did the whole Hotbread thing come about?
"I think it started one day when [Tampa pitcher] Preston Packrall and his buddies were eating at Panera Bread," J.D. began as if he was a seasoned interview professional. "They say, 'Hotbread' there. It's almost like saying, 'Come and get it!'"
Not only can J.D. explain Hotbread's origins, he also pinpoints the date to early this season.
"During the game, they started saying, 'Hotbread!'" he continued. "I think that game, the final score was 24-3 against Pace University. And then ever since, they just kept saying it. Now it's like our team quote."
Actually, the score against Pace was 25-3 on Feb. 22, but who's counting?
Okay, so that's how Hotbread got started … and when it got started. What about the haircut? How in the world did you convince Mom and Dad to let you do that?
"It was after the last exam of the school year, so school was already out," J.D. explained ever-so patiently. "My mom goes, 'Let's go get a haircut.' I was like, 'Can I get a design?' because they never let me do anything crazy."
Obviously, Mom said yes.
"I was so excited," he said. "I didn't tell anybody, so once we got up to North Carolina, the team went crazy."
The Spartans had been unbeaten in the tournament going into Thursday's game, and following a 10-3 win against St. Edward's two nights before, he was confident about his dad's team's chances. He still is, for that matter.
"If we keep scoring runs like this, whoever they put in front of us, we're going to be beat," he said after the St. Edward's victory.
So you think a national championship is in the bag?
"Not exactly," J.D. admitted. "But if we keep playing ball like this, it's going to be tough for a team to beat us. I think we're averaging like eight runs a game, and as a pitcher, knowing you can give up eight runs and still win the ballgame, that's a lot."
Although Tampa didn't get those eight runs against Grand Valley State, the team has one more shot at the Lakers on Friday night. Win that game and it's on to the title game the following day. There are going to be two young men in the stands, their devotion to their dad's team etched plainly for all to see on the backs of their heads.
J.D. is an ardent baseball fan in general and of Tampa in particular, but it's how he answered a few more questions that show where his true loyalty lays.
You play baseball yourself, right?
What position do you play?
"Shortstop … just like my dad," he continued, the last part ringing with pride. Just. Like. My. Dad.
One final thought. Are you going to play for your dad someday at Tampa?
"If he lets me, yes."
C'mon, Dad. You've got to sign up this kid, just as soon as he's old enough and eligible. It'll be his dream come true.