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Tart blazes trail to IMG Academy

BRADENTON --Many people would consider Florida a virtual paradise. Blaze Tart is from Durham, N.C., a place sometimes dreary and sometimes very cold.

Florida has breathtaking gulf beaches and is sunny most of the year - even in the winter. Tart only dreamed of a beautiful view in Carolina, a region of the country that mostly caters to basketball.

Most important, IMG Academy has a facility that favors baseball, a sport Tart loves. Needless to say, a sport he plays pretty well, as evidenced by the plethora of Division I-A colleges courting his services.

Leaving gloomy Durham for sunny Bradenton was a no-brainer for Tart.

"This is better than Durham," said Tart, a pitcher/outfielder playing for the Blue team in the IMG Academy Baseball Academy Wood-Bat League this summer. "I came down here to get better, faster and stronger, and that's definitely improved."

He also helped Riverside High improve last spring. His hometown baseball team hadn't advanced past the first round of the state baseball playoffs in 17 years. The Pirates were starting to believe they were cursed. Something similar to the spell the Boston Red Sox felt Babe Ruth put on their organization before winning their first World Series in 86 years in 2004.

Tart was the team's closer as Riverside reached regionals before "we just ran out of gas."

"We were totally stoked about that," said Tart, 17, who will play his senior season at The IMG Academy School on the campus of IMG. "I learned curses can be broken. We had one of the best teams in 2006 and didn't make it past the first round. We made it past the first round when we weren't nearly as good as that team. Things change."

And things can stay the same.

Tart - whose name is made for SportsCenter highlights - helped Riverside to an 18-3 record, and he helped the Blue team reach the semifinals of the Wood-Bat League before falling to the Red team 13-3 on Tuesday.

Today, the Blue team faces the Gold team in a consolation game at 2 p.m. at Academy Park.

At 5 p.m., Bayshore High plays the Red team for the championship, while Southeast High squares off against the Green team in the other consolation game.

Entering today's contest, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Tart is batting .385 with 14 RBIs, including seven doubles. On the rubber, he has a 5-1 record with a 2.33 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 12 walks.

"There are some mechanical things we are working on with him from a pitching standpoint," Blue team coach Jason Elias said. "From a hitting standpoint, we are working on some of his pitch-selection issues. Typical things amateurs go through. All in all, he's heads above the other kids out there his age. On the day-to-day level, he'll play shortstop. He'll play some right field, and he's probably my number one pitcher."

Tart's skill and versatility are, most likely, what makes him so appealing to big-time programs. North Carolina is interested, so is LSU and Clemson, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State to name a few.

The first letter he received is framed. The others he has tucked away. Tart is eager to make a decision. Doing it in paradise makes the process a little easier.

"I love it down here," Tart said. "I'm playing baseball. It's what I do best."

If you go

What: IMG Academy Wood-Bat League championship and consolation games.

When: 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Where: Academy Park, off 53rd Avenue and Nick Bollettieri Way.
Cost: Free to the public.

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