LEGENDS OF THE BAT: SEAN McDONALD BREAKS DOWN TOP BATTING AVERAGES IN CONCH BASEBALL HISTORY

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In a town like Key West, baseball isn’t just a game; it’s a way of life. At Key West High School, the diamond is where dreams are made and legends are born. Just to appear on the varsity roster for the Conchs can be a challenging goal, but to stand out on a team of standouts with a storied history of some of the greatest ball players anywhere, it takes a combination of hard work, dedication and athleticism with a healthy dose of luck and a touch of magic. This week, just before the first pitch of the regular season is tossed, we look back at the top hitters whose prowess with the bat made them local legends. Hitters are ranked by batting average during their best season at KWHS.

1. Khalil Greene (.500): At the top of the list stands Khalil Greene, a natural athlete with a swing so smooth it seemed almost effortless. In the spring of 1998, Greene stepped up to the plate and delivered a season for the ages, boasting an unbelievable batting average of .500 – made more impressive given the top competition Key West faces each season. Greene went on to play for Clemson University, where he was named Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year his senior season. He was then drafted by the San Diego Padres and enjoyed a remarkable career which still brings pride to the Southernmost City.

T-2. Ben Harrison and Preston Herce (.494): Right beside Greene in the record books is teammate Ben Harrison, a powerhouse hitter whose bat matched none but Greene’s. In the same season Khalil broke the legendary Conchs hitting record, Harrison and Greene went stride-for-stride in a march toward the state championships, which Key West secured, no doubt in part due to their pair of deadly hitters. At the end of the season, when the red clay dust settled and Key West was basking in the glory of yet another state title, Harrison’s .494 average  earned him the number two spot on the Conchs’ all-time hitters list. He then enjoyed a stellar four-year career as a Gator at the University of Florida and was drafted by the Texas Rangers. The Key West dynasty is not exclusive to the distant past. During the 2022 season, Preston Herce matched Harrison’s numbers, hitting an impressive .494 for Key West. Herce is currently playing collegiate baseball at Pensacola State College, where he is not finished writing his own history just yet. 

3. John “Boog” Powell (.489): The No. 3 name on the list does hail from an earlier era. John “Boog” Powell’s .489 average in 1959 gave pitchers across Florida a run for their money. Powell did not just hit often – he hit hard and he hit far, but that’s for another top 10. Often considered the greatest ballplayer to come out of Key West, Powell had a long and successful career in MLB, playing for the Orioles, Indians and Dodgers. He is a two-time World Series champ, four-time All Star and was named the American League MVP in 1970.

T-4. Richie Pazo and Darren Mills (.479): These legends of the ’70s and ’90s, respectively, each hit .479 in dominant seasons at bat for the Conchs. Pazo played baseball at University of Miami while Mills started his baseball career at Indian River Community College, finishing at Florida Atlantic.

5. Ralphie Henriquez (.478): Ralphie Henriquez currently sits at No. 5 on the all-time list for Key West after an amazing 2005 season with the Conchs. Henriquez had a long professional baseball career after being drafted in the second round by the Houston Astros. When he hung up his MLB bat, Henriquez returned home to coach for his alma mater and develop the future hitters who just may surpass his .478 mark one day.

6. Dexter Butler (.473): The Conchs’ current head basketball coach and son of a Key West hardwood legend, Dexter Butler was one of the hardest, most consistent hitters Key West ever saw. Butler had a very successful college baseball career as a starter at University of South Florida, also playing one season at Nova Southeastern. He hit .473 in 2004 for Key West, earning the No. 6 spot on the list of historical Conch batters.

7. Jeff Holmes (.466): In spot No. 7 is Jeff Holmes, who hit .466 in the 1973 season. 

8. Frankie Ratcliff Jr. (.465): Just behind Holmes is Frankie Ratcliff Jr. with a .465 average in 2008. 

T-9. Oneri David Fleita, Craig Lariz, and Steven Wells, Jr. (.458): Sharing the No. 9 position is a trio of heavy hitters, all batting a substantial .458 for one season each. Oneri David Fleita did it in 1983, Craig Lariz matched him in 1996, and then Steven Wells Jr. did it in 2014, giving each a place in Key West’s history.

10. Miguel Menendez (.457): In 1994, Miguel Menendez hit .457 to secure the final spot on the list of all-time greats. As a Conch, Menendez helped lead Key West to a state title in 1995. He then went on to the University of Tampa and won an NCAA Division II national title in 1998. He returned to Key West, spending time at the helm as the head baseball coach at Key West High School. He is now the head coach at Tampa Jesuit, where he led his team to a state championship in 2019 and the runner-up spot in 2017.

Only time will tell if Menendez is bumped from the top 10, but it is a certainty that a roster of young men will be doing their best to make it into the annals of Conch history this spring.

Tracy McDonald
Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.