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HIGH-SCHOOL

'The tricks of the trade': How Kevin Maris used his lineage to turn Oak Hall into a winner

Noah Ram
Gainesville Sun

Like most youth baseball players, Kevin Maris learned the game from his father.

He conversed at lengths with his dad and his friends.

At the age of seven, he snagged fly balls on the diamond and played in father and son games.

That year was 1967, and the venue wasnֱt some town park like most kids.

It was Busch Stadium, and Kevinֱs dad held baseballֱs most iconic record for 37 years.

His name? Roger Maris.

The famed right fielder played in the big leagues from 1957-1968, and he famously broke Babe Ruthֱs home run record with 61 in 1961.

Fast forward 56 years after Rogerֱs retirement, and Kevin has passed on what he learned from his dad onto the Oak Hall baseball team.

Now, he has the Eagles back in the FHSAA Regional Playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

How did Maris end up at Oak Hall

Kevin, of course, isnֱt new to the Eagles. Heֱs coached on Gainesvilleֱs west side for the better part of 34 years.

It all started when Roger retired from baseball in 1968 following back-to-back pennants for him on the St. Louis Cardinals, and a World Series win in 1967.

The Maris family then moved to Gainesville, so Roger could run a Budweiser Beer Distributor based out of Gainesville and Ocala.

Rogerֱs daily presence improved Kevinֱs game.

ֱWe played little league when we moved down here. We'd never play organized ball until we moved down here,ֱ Kevin said. ֱIt was a real treat for us.ֱ

In 1977, while Kevin starred for Oak Hall, Roger helped build its new field. It was later named after him after he died in 1985 at 51.

In the 1980s, Kevin attempted a professional golf career, but a series of injuries forced him to return to the game that made his family famous.

Oct 2, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA;  The children of Roger Maris are honored prior to the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY ֱ

He joined Oak Hallֱs coaching staff in 1990 and was named head coach in 1997.

Kevin built a winner at OH until he departed in 2008.

After stints as coach of St. Francis and the Florida Hardballers youth baseball squad, he returned to Oak Hall in 2019.

ֱYouֱre getting the tricks of the trade.ֱ

Since Kevin ventured back to Oak Hall, he rebuilt the Eagles into a winner.

Theyֱve won districts four years in a row.

Last season, they won their first playoff game of Marisֱ second tenure.

Expectations lowered this season due to the loss of Gainesville Sun All-Area Small School Player of the Year Jack Kuzmicki.

Still, Maris milked the most out of his roster and to a No. 5 seed in Class 2A-Region 1 postseason.

Maris believes players under him learn unique skills due to his past.

ֱYou're not getting that book knowledge,ֱ Maris said. ֱYou're getting the tricks of the trade to make you a little more quick and a little more efficient in pressure situations.ֱ

Oak Hall Jack Steen (20) pitches during an FHSAA baseball game at Oak Hill School in Gainesville, FL on Friday, April 19, 2024. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

The coach himself learned to embrace pressure situations at a young age.

He mentioned that one time in a little league game, he was on deck when the player before him struck out with the bases loaded to end the game.

Maris then told his father he was happy that it wasnֱt him who struck out.

ֱHe stopped the car and said, ֱif you think like that, you need to quit this game,'ֱ Maris said. ֱYou learn to thrive in those situations.ֱ

That mindset showed that Roger was mentally tougher than most athletes, something Kevin tries to pass onto his players.

That mentality was on display in Thursdayֱs district final vs St. Francis.

The Wolves' pesky offense continued to claw at the Eagles, but the squad maintained composure and held onto a 12-8 win.

Oak Hall Eagles head coach Kevin Maris talks with Oak Hall Eagles Harrison Beach (17) before he bats in the first inning. Oak Hall hosted Eastside in baseball at Oak Hall High School in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Oakl Hall defeated Eastside 6-0 in seven innings. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Kuzmicki told the Sun last July that Maris lived up to the hype as a coach.

ֱWith the last name Maris, anybody who knows baseball knows that last name,ֱ said Kuzmicki. ֱHe, gosh, he owned up to it. Heֱs an amazing coach.ֱ

Fulfilling a fatherֱs wishes

Maris entered coaching five years after Rogerֱs death.

In his 34 years coaching, Maris has seen multiple players make it to the MLB, something he believes would make Roger proud.

ֱTo see his son follow in his footsteps in the coaching standpoint,ֱ Maris said. ֱTo see the knowledge that he had over the years and passed onto me that I have now passed on.ֱ

To have this success at Oak Hall with a field that has his fatherֱs name is even more special, Maris said.

An April visitor

Roger Maris Gregory, left, and Oak Hall head coach Kevin Maris pose with the scoreboard after an FHSAA baseball game at Oak Hill School in Gainesville, FL on Friday, April 19, 2024. Gregory is a fan of Kevinֱs dad professional baseball great Roger Maris and was born soon after Maris hit 61 homers in 1961. Being Maris fans, Gregoryֱs parents named him after the player. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

On April 19, OHS hosted Seven Rivers Christian and cruised to a nondescript 15-5 win.

Maris, though, received a unique visitor during the game.

It was a Greenville, South Carolina, native named Roger Maris Gregory.

He was born in 1961, and given that his parents idolized Maris, they named their son after the new home run king.

Gregory traveled down to Gainesville in hope of meeting Kevin and seeing the field. Maris spent 30 minutes speaking to him after the game and signing baseballs.

Maris noted that he appreciates encounters like that and seeing what his father still means to others.

ֱIt's a treat for us to realize the impact that he has made throughout his lifetime and he's still doing it,ֱ Maris said. ֱWe take pride in continuing his legacy.ֱ

Oak Hall opens playoff baseball Wednesday at University Christian.

Noah Ram covers Gainesville-area high school sports and University of Florida athletics for The Gainesville Sun. Contact him atֱNram@gannett.comֱand follow himֱֱon Twitter.