Willie Vasquez sat in the stands last week and looked out at the Miami Springs High School baseball field.
“I feel like I’m back home,” he said in a reflective moment. “I want to bring back the great tradition of Springs baseball in the past.”
Vasquez enjoyed plenty of those great moments back in the mid-to-late ’90s when he wore one of those very same Hawks baseball uniforms his players were wearing out on the field.
Vasquez was a four-year player for the Hawks from 1995 to 1998 and played for the legendary Shelly Dunkel before Dunkel retired and Stan Yanowitz took over.
When Jason Moris, who held the job for 21⁄2 seasons, resigned last summer, Springs administrators went on a coaching search and had plenty of suitors.
Not only did Vasquez have the resume, he had the roots as well.
“I was really excited when I was named the coach because of all the time I spent around here,” said Vasquez, who returned to Springs in 2004 when he served as an assistant under then-head coach Phil Wisser for three seasons. “This was my ‘dream job’ and now it’s here and I want to take advantage of the opportunity. I want to get out there and build this thing from the ground up and make sure we keep all of those elementary and middle school kids from going somewhere else.”
Vasquez left with Wisser following the 2007 season at Springs for Coral Gables, where he spent two seasons as an assistant before he nailed down his first head coaching gig at Hialeah Champagnat in 2010. He then took the head job at Miami Christian, where he won 35 games and a pair of district championships in his two seasons there.
“I think he’s going to be great for that program,” said Wisser, who is now in his sixth season at Gables. “Willie has always had a passion for the game and was a terrific coach under me. He’s a hard worker, a good teacher of the game and can really relate to the kids well. The job he did at Champagnat and Miami Christian speaks for itself and I think they can expect the same success at Springs.”
But sometimes success can take time as the Vasquez-led Hawks got off to a rough 0-3 start to begin the 2013 season. Things got better quickly for Vasquez and his kids last week when they traveled to Miami Beach and Reagan for early-season district games and won them both by 10-4 and 11-6 scores, respectively.
And the three losses were nothing to hang their heads over as well as Springs opened its 2013 campaign against private school powers Florida Christian, Gulliver Prep and Pompano Beach Highlands Christian.
“This will be a process as it sometimes can be when you come in and implement a new system and have a few new faces,” said Vasquez, who brought Ivan Chavez and Rudy Camejo Jr. over with him from Miami Christian as his assistant coaches. “We’ve got plenty of talent to go around and win plenty of games but you always want to make sure you’re playing your best baseball when it counts the most, and that’s in April.”
Vasquez referred to the GMAC playoffs, district playoffs, regional playoffs, etc., where the games will take on heavy importance. In the meantime, the Hawks will put a premium on their district games and beating Beach and Reagan last week was a good 2-0 start as only the top four of seven teams in Springs’ district will qualify for the district tournament in late April.
“Nick Bello will be our horse on the mound and someone we will rely on heavily,” said Vasquez, referring to Springs’ No. 1 pitcher. “Even though it didn’t reflect in the final score (Springs lost 6-2), he really pitched well that day.”
Another name to look out for according to Vasquez will be sophomore utility player Juan Kirk. A fresh transfer into the United States from Mexico, Kirk is off to a torrid start, hitting .571, and looks to be a real offensive catalyst for the Hawks.
“He’s a good one and just a 10th-grader, so we’re excited about his future,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez then excused himself from the interview and headed back toward the field. It was time to talk to his players as they prepped for practice. Time to talk about things that Dunkel and Yanowitz talked to him about a decade and a half ago.
“Hawk pride, hard work, dedication and a full commitment to the program, that’s what I’m here selling,” said Vasquez. “It’s time to bring the tradition back.”