As the top Division II program in the nation, winning remains the only option for the Tampa Spartans year in and year out.
Coach Joe Urso has been at the helm for five National Championships since he took over in 2001.
He and assistant coach Sam Militello have created a consistent winning culture and the players understand what is required of them to succeed.
“They know the pride that we take in putting this uniform on every day,” Urso said, on a video interview with the Observer. “And that the expectations are to win a national championship and to chase that goal.”
Urso admitted they struggle to attract top players out of high school, which is why the additional aspects of their recruiting process become so much more important.
He knows they have the best program for former Division I athletes seeking a better opportunity to improve their game.
“The bottom line for these student-athletes is they need to be playing to develop and we have that opportunity here,” Urso said. “That’s why a lot of them end up coming back down and playing at Tampa.”
Grad transfer Luke Glancy noted how things are run differently in Tampa. The outfielder spent four years with the Tulane Green Wave, a D-I program from the American Athletic Conference.
“The coolest thing about being here is that we know how to win, we win professionally,” Glancy said. “And it’s almost an in-between, between collegiate baseball and professional baseball, we’re a little more like professional and less ‘rah rah’ than most collegiate teams I’ve seen.”
Militello isn’t the only one helping the Spartans head coach continue building this successful program.
Urso also credits assistant Jose Jimenez, who joined the staff in 2015, for the advancements they’ve made to keep in step with the modern times.
“He understands a lot of the technology and he’s starting to bring that in because that’s what the players are looking at,” said the long-time coach. “You have to make sure that the recruits you are bringing in see that we are adapting as well.”
Urso acknowledged one of the tools they use is Yakkertech. The system, which has been adopted by MLB since 2020, tracks the players’ performance based on advanced metrics such as spin rate, velocity and efficiency, and ball location and movement.
“(It) gives us a lot of the data that we need to help a pitcher or a hitter if we need to,” Urso said. “If they’re not understanding how we’re teaching, we can show them through the analytics.”
Metrics aside, Spartans players value the opportunity to don the Tampa colors.
Whoever steps foot into the program — whether it be a former D-I athlete, a junior college recruit, or a kid coming out of high school — they know what it means to be a Spartan.
“At the end of each day, we all put our hands in, and we end our day with a ‘one, two, three, pride,” said the coach’s son, J.D Urso. “That word really resonates with us because when you come to play at the University of Tampa, it’s more than just a baseball game.
“We take pride in this. This is important to us, so we try to represent our school well.”
Tino Martinez highlights list of Spartan players to reach big leagues
Tampa Spartans coach Joe Urso (869-255-10) not only finds ways to win, he has also found success converting athletes into major league draft worthy talent.
Division I programs take the spotlight when scouts search for future draft picks, but the Spartans have shown they have just as much talent to offer.
Since the program was founded in 1961, 100 players have been drafted and seven have reached the major leagues. In 2010, a school record nine players were drafted, giving them the sixth most players in that season’s draft class.
The most successful player to graduate from the program was New York Yankees legend Tino Martinez. A three-time All-American, Martinez was part of the Spartans team that made the finals in 1987.
After being drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners the following year, the first baseman went on to earn four World Series rings with the Yankees in his 15-year career. He finished as the runner-up in MVP voting in 1997.
Martinez is one of the Spartans’ 100 players drafted into the majors, but 74 have come under Urso’s leadership.
“We’re moving guys on to professional baseball at a very high clip,” the coach said. “We’re fourth currently in our state for draft picks, that’s behind Florida, Florida State, and Miami. It shows everything we’re doing here is really what the kids should be looking for out high school”
The five-time National Champion coach sets an example for players with Major League draft aspirations as a former Minor League player himself.
Urso was the Spartans’ starting second baseman for four seasons and was voted MVP during the team’s first national championship. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 1992 and compiled a .381 OBP over 6 seasons in the Minor Leagues. Lake Elsinore retired his number to recognize how much he meant to the high A club.
The coach’s son J.D. Urso knows that’s the standard they need to uphold themselves to as a Spartan.
“There’s a lot of people that have come through this program, won a national championship, and moved on to pro ball. Those are the shoes that we have to fill every year.”