Cowboy earns Wade Boggs Athletic Achievement Award
By Jeff Odom and Cameron Valdez
Long before his high school days, Gaither baseball player Hayden Kelley idolized MLB Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs.
On June 6, the senior center fielder was presented with the sixth annual Wade Boggs Athletic Achievement Award by the former Tampa Bay Rays player and 12-time All-Star for his work on and off the diamond.
“Just seeing the numbers (Boggs) put up and the abilities he put out on the field is incredible,” Kelley said. “For me to be forever linked to him like that, in any way, is a total honor.”
The award, established in 2005, is presented to one of the Hillsborough County’s top baseball team or players each year based on academic and athletic achievement as well as community involvement.
“Most baseball awards are for achievements on the field, and this award not only covers that but academics and what he does in the community,” Boggs said. He added, “These are the types of individuals that we look for.”
Kelley, a first-team all-Western Conference selection and Miami Dade College signee, graduated from Gaither with a 3.98 weighted grade point average (GPA). He served as a counselor and caregiver the past two summers at the Shriners Hospitals’ Camp Care-A-Lot and also traveled to the Dominican Republic with SCORE International on mission trips.
Kelley also gave back to young baseball players, participating in the Son Diamond Baseball Camps for inner-city children. He said his parents made him start volunteering when he was young, but now it’s something he can’t imagine not doing.
“I just really like helping out whenever I can,” Kelley said. “I feel like I always get more out of the time I spend volunteering than I have to put into whatever I’m doing there.”
After he finishes college, Kelley plans to continue a career in the sport he loves — hopefully, as a professional player.
“I am going to junior college for two years to get my (associate) degree, then, probably focus more on making a choice on that,” Kelley said. “After college, I want to play baseball for as long as I can. I want to see how far it’s going to take me.”
Joining Kelley in the ceremony was Steinbrenner second baseman Christian Diaz, who graduated with a 5.1 weighted GPA and served as the senior class president in the school’s student government. He was recognized as an honorable mention by Boggs and said he didn’t mind a runner-up spot to a player like Kelley.
“I feel very honored,” Diaz said. “I wear No. 12 in honor of Mr. Boggs with everything he has done for the community and to see a guy like Hayden, who has really gone out of his way to help the community, really makes me feel good about the people that have been nominated for it.”
—Sports Editor Kyle LoJacono contributed to this report.