College baseball

Miami Dade’s baseball team comes up short of first national championship since 1981

 

Special to the Miami Herald

Kyle Carter was the winning pitcher when Columbus, Georgia, won a Little League World Series title in 2006. Last week, Carter nearly added a Junior College World Series championship to his resume.

But Carter’s journey isn’t the only compelling story on the Miami Dade College baseball team, which returned home Monday after finishing second to Iowa Western at the annual tournament in Grand Junction, Colo.

Sophomore Nick Bateman began the World Series as a reserve outfielder but became a starter in the second game when Jose Gomez got hurt. Bateman ended up hitting .583 with three home runs -- including two which never left the park -- joining Carter and infielder Darren Seferina (who was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of the MLB draft on Friday) on the all-tournament team.

“You rarely see two inside-the-park homers in one tournament, let alone by the same player,” MDC pitching coach Kevin Long said.

Bateman, who is from Aston, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, said he had never hit an inside-the-park home run in high school or in two years of college, which included a season at Division I Winthrop.

“Maybe in Little League,” he said.

But in Grand Junction, where crowds of 10,000 to 12,000 are common for the World Series, the fans were treated to two by Bateman.

On the first one, he fought through a 13-pitch at-bat. He kept fouling off pitches as the bat kept sliding on him. So he finally got some pine tar, and, on the next pitch, he drilled the ball over the head of the center fielder.

“I was thinking triple,” Bateman said.

But once he got to third, he was waved home, and he made it easily. Well, not easily perhaps.

“I was gassed,” he said. “It’s Colorado, so you’re playing at high elevation. The guys were asking me if I needed an oxygen tank.”

In the next game, on his second at-bat, Bateman hit a line drive to right-center. The center fielder dove for the ball but came up empty, and Bateman chugged around the bases again.

In his next at-bat, Bateman could finally jog – he slugged a homer the traditional way, over the left-field fence.

Bateman, who is still looking for a baseball scholarship for next season, said the team is disappointed it fell twice to Iowa Western, losing 10-0 and 17-5.

“But second in the country is pretty freaking good,” said Bateman, whose team won its other three games by scores of 13-2, 11-2 and 8-3.

Bateman said he was impressed with Iowa Western (56-11), which has now won three World Series titles in the past five years.

“They were really good,” he said. “We’d throw a pitch near the dirt, with two strikes, and they would somehow hit it hard.”

MDC Coach Danny Price said the World Series was a great experience for his kids, who listened to former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa give a speech at the tournament’s introductory banquet.

But given how MDC began the season, it was a wonder how they got to the World Series.

“I never believed so much that heart beats talent until I played with this team,” said Carter, a sophomore. “We started the year 3-4 in conference play, but we became something special.”

Carter was on the mound when his Columbus Little League team beat Japan in 2006. And he was on the mound again when MDC rallied to win this year’s state title, qualifying them for Colorado.

He has a scholarship to play at Division II Lynn University, but he is hoping to sign with a pro team after this weekend’s draft.

Either way, he said he will never forget this MDC team, which fell just short of winning what would have been the program’s first national title since 1981. The Sharks finished 38-16.

“I’ve never felt so close to a group of guys,” Carter said. “My door will always be open to the 23 guys on this team.”

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