It didn’t last long, but for a short while they dreamed big.
We’re referring to the Miami Springs minors Little League all-star team which took the field last Sunday morning (July 7) as a prohibitive underdog against Kendall Red in the District 8 championship game at Prince Field.
Three-time defending champion Kendall came in having mercy-ruled every single one of its opponents in the South pool division and done the same to Liberty City in the District 8 semifinals two days before.
The Springs kids came in as the “wet-behind-the-ears” crew. Only once had any MS minors team ever made it to the championship game and that was all the way back in 1996, seven or eight years before this crop of 9- and 10-year-olds were even born. In fact, no majors team (11-, 12-year-olds) to date has ever accomplished the feat as well.
With all that said, after the first inning, one might have thought that the Springs youngsters were the ones with the experienced pedigree and Kendall was there for the first time. Much to the delight of a nice crowd in the stands, MS jumped all over the favorites for three runs in the top of the first and led 3-0 after one inning.
But, like we said, the dream was short-lived as Kendall answered with a five-run second and four-run third and went on to an 11-5 victory to capture their fourth straight District 8 crown.
Kendall will be joined by two Broward teams (District 10 and District 21) this weekend (July 12-14) at Doral Meadows Park in Doral for the sectional tournament that will determine who goes to the state tournament in Mims (near Titusville) the following weekend.
“You could not have asked for a better start to the game, that’s for sure,” minors head coach Robert Gonzalez-Pino said. “But we just coudn’t sustain that early momentum and once Kendall starting plating a few runs, it became a tough hole to dig out of.”
Despite trailing 9-3, the Springs kids showed no signs of “give-up” as they rallied to score twice in the top of the fifth to cut the Kendall lead to 9-5 before Kendall answered with its own two runs in the bottom of the inning.
Springs went down in order in the top of the sixth to end the contest.
“What a great run, and I can’t be more proud of the our kids,” Gonzalez-Pino said. “Even after we fell behind by six runs, they kept on fighting to the very end and that tells you everything you need to know about them.”
After the first two batters (Carlos Martin and Carlos Rey) were retired to start the game, Springs then put on a major two-out rally off Kendall starter Jonathan Gonzalez.
After Oscar Colindres Jr. walked, Nicholas Regalado, one of the team’s top players who had just gotten in from out of town the night before, stepped up and tripled to the right-center-field fence to score Colindres Jr.
Javier Cardoso II then knocked one to the right-field fence for a double and it was 2-0. When Gavin Gonzalez hit a routine grounder to third, it appeared the inning would end. But the throw to first was high and Cardoso II rounded third and came home to make it 3-0 as the Springs dugout celebrated jubilantly.
Rey, Springs’ starting pitcher, struggled with his control, walking three batters in the last of the first to load the bases. But he struck out Jorge Padron to end the inning.
From there, Kendall’s Gonzalez settled down and would retire 10 of the next 11 Springs batters. Meanwhile, Rey continued to struggle with the strike zone, walking two more and that, combined with three Kendall hits, including a two-RBI double by Luis Mejia and a key two-out infield error, led to a big five-run second inning that Kendall up 5-3.
Eddie Vidal took the mound for Springs in the third but fared no better than Rey as Kendall plated four more runs on the strength of three hits, one walk and two errors in the field.
What had to be tough to watch from Gonzalez-Pino’s perspective was that perhaps his best pitcher, Regalado, spent the first three innings at third base while Rey and Vidal struggled. Cardoso II and Conindres Jr. had both thrown too many pitches in Friday night’s 4-1 semifinal win over Homestead and could not pitch.
When Vidal complained of an injury to start the fourth inning, finally Regalado went to the mound.
“My idea was to try and bring him in to close the game,” Gonzalez-Pino said.
Why not have him out on the mound in the first after Springs had taken that 3-0 lead?
“Listen, I don’t care what the situation is or what’s at stake,” Gonzalez-Pino said. “Nicholas spent all week in Myrtle Beach (Cal Ripken Camp in South Carolina) and had already thrown a lot of pitches before coming back to town. The one thing I’ll never do is put a young kid in a situation where he is throwing too many pitches in a short amount of time. Even though he certainly was eligible to throw the full 75 pitches allowed in a game, that was never going to happen. I would never risk that. Short work and few pitches was all he was ever going to get.”
Predictably, Regalado mowed down Kendall batters in the fourth, striking out the side. In the top of the fifth, Springs caught some life when Rey reached first with a one-out infield single, Colindres Jr. walked, Regalado reached on an error at shortstop, scoring Rey, and Cardoso II scored Colindres Jr. from third with a groundout to first base to make it 9-5.
But Kendall then reached Regalado with three hits in the last of the fifth to get those two runs back before Padron took to the mound for Kendall once Gonzalez had reached his maximum 75-pitch count and retired the final three Springs batters to wrap things up.
“I’m proud of all of my teammates and the way we played throughout the tournament,” said Regalado. “We got off to a great start today but just couldn’t finish it. It was a great run all the way through.”
The great run Regalado referred to was the minors’ perfect 4-0 record in the four-team round-robin North pool qualifying tournament where they outscored North Miami, Liberty City and North Miami Beach (twice) by a combined score of 54-12 and then followed that up with a terrific 4-1 win over Homestead last Friday night (July 5) at Prince Field in the District 8 semifinal.
That win put them at 5-0 and into the championship game.
“The exciting thing for me and my coaches is that now we’ve laid the groundwork for success in the future,” said Gonzalez-Pino, who went out of his way to credit assistant coaches Javier Cardoso Jr. and Oscar Colindres Sr. as well for the team’s success. “I can’t thank not only the kids but the parents of these kids enough for showing the faith in Javi, Oscar and myself for trusting their kids to us and knowing we would do things the right way.”
And what Gonzalez-Pino is now looking forward to is word spreading about the success the Miami Springs Little League 9- and 10-year-olds enjoyed.
“It still hurts a little right now,” Gonzalez-Pino said following the game. “But it’s obvious that our parents have bought into this and now hopefully the word will spread and we’ll be able to start going after more kids. Thanks to Otto (LL president Otto Camejo) hustling to get us new boundaries (stretching all the way north to Miami Lakes and west to Hialeah Gardens), we’ll be able to pull from a much larger pool of kids.”
The dilemma Gonzalez-Pino and his coaches will now face is what to do with this current minors team.
Some are 10 and slated to go up to majors while the 9-year-olds will stay down in minors.
“We’ll make decisions once we get into the fall season but what we might do in order to keep them together is let them play the 10-11s,” Gonzalez-Pino said, referring to a kind of hybrid “in-between” division of Little League. “My goal now during the offseason is to try to share this experience with anyone who will listen and convince them that Little League baseball in Miami Springs is the way to go.”