If Pudge Rodriguez gets an All-Star nod this season, he won't be the only Florida backstop garnering midseason honors. The Jupiter Hammerheads have Josh Willingham behind the plate, and he's got the stuff to make it big.
This is the first year Willingham has taken on full-time catching duties. He caught briefly in years past, trying to add a third defensive position to his hardball résumé at the corners. But it never became a steady thing. Then the Hammerheads decided catching would increase Willingham's value. They have been shocked at how well he has adapted. "I surprised a lot of people with how quickly I picked up catching," he says. "After a while, we realized this was something I could do every day."
Willingham's talent is scary, and his production proves it. His career includes two First-Team All-America honors and a College World Series run at North Alabama. Since being drafted by the Marlins in 2000, J Dub's been collecting accolades much like J. Lo collects engagement rings.
This year has been more of the same. Josh is among the Florida State League leaders in five statistical categories, including home runs and slugging percentage. With his rapid growth, Willingham is poised to make a big splash soon. He won't be in Jupiter much longer, and the Marlin brass knows it.
He landed on Florida's 40-man roster this spring, and while Jeff Torborg wanted a good look at him, the Marlins had another reason for the call-up. This is Willingham's fourth season in pro ball, known as his protection year. Had Josh not been assigned to the 40-man roster, another team could have drafted him and stolen the Marlin prospect.
The next chance you'll have to see J Dub strut his stuff is May 16, when Jupiter opens a weekend series against Sarasota. Go see him now, because there's no telling how much longer he'll be a Hammerhead. -- Russ Evans
High-flying action commences at War Memorial Auditorium (800 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale) at 7:30 p.m. Friday as the Kings of Kickboxing arrive to show fight-lusting audiences how to really kick ass. The nastiest brawl of the night promises to be a Muay Thai title bout. Also known simply as Thai kickboxing, Muay Thai is vastly more interesting than its American cousin. Its proponents must look at our tamer version and sneer derisively. Just as kickboxing allows moves the sweet science would never hear of, Muay Thai takes kickboxing and says, "Hmm... you know, we could really add some more violence to this." Sweet! Tickets cost $25, $30, $50, or $100. Call 954-828-5380. -- Dan Sweeney
SAT 5/17 Canoe You
Wilton Manors celebrates its 56th birthday this Saturday with... a canoe race! Well, what did you expect from the Island City? A marathon? The competition begins at 8 a.m. at Colohatchee Park (1975 NE 15th Ave., Wilton Manors) and wraps up later in the day at the same location. Though each canoe is powered by 12 paddlers and there are six legs to the race, when it comes to winners, it's like Highlander: There can be only one. After all the hot canoeing action is over, participants and spectators can celebrate at 11 a.m. with a birthday bash in the park, including cake, hot dogs, and drinks. Call 954-390-2115. -- Dan Sweeney
Up, Up, and Away...
...in my beautiful balloon. Sappy 1970s pop aside, you're probably fired up about seeing the South Florida skies packed with reds, greens, blues, and yellows. Great! You can do it. And you don't even have to be on drugs. The Delray Beach Hot Air Balloon Race lifts off Saturday and Sunday at Lake Ida Park (2929 Lake Ida Rd., Delray Beach). On both days, the first race begins at 7 a.m., and the second one starts at 4 p.m. For night owls, Friday's festivities include a fireworks display along Atlantic Avenue. They'll also light up some of the most colorful balloons to elevate your spirits, man. Call 561-279-1380, ext. 16. -- Audra Schroeder