As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Miami Springs Minors All Star Little League baseball team had seen an 11-3 lead disappear in the District 8 North Division Tournament opener against North Miami Beach at Prince Field – but then the darn lights went out.
That’s right. Here they were, Springs and NMB locked in an 11-11 nailbiting thriller in the last inning two weeks ago with the go-ahead run standing on third with two outs for North Miami Beach – when everything went dark at exactly 10:10 p.m.
“It was unfortunate but it just turned into one of those long games that ran really late and we knew that the city had a time restriction on the lights,” said Minors head coach Mike Becerra. “If anything, it might’ve hurt them (North Miami Beach) even more because they had come from all the way back and obviously had the momentum.”
It would wind up taking another three days before they would eventually decide the issue and, if the Springs minors were hoping a new day would alter the momentum NMB had built, they were wrong.
Three days later, the two teams picked things up at noon and thanks to a crucial passed ball by the Springs catcher, a runner for North Miami Beach who had been left at third when the game was suspended, scored to give them a 12-11 lead. And when Springs was retired in order in the bottom of the inning, the locals were on the short end of the score and saddled with being the No. 3 seed in the three-team tournament.
“We felt awful about having to shut off the lights, especially with young kids playing baseball,” said Miami Springs Recreation Director Omar Luna. “But at the same time, you have to be respectful of the residents who live next to the park.”
Luna said the city has a “9:30 lights out” rule that in the past has been extended by a “few minutes” on occasion.
“We stretched it out and took it as far as we could,” said Luna. “If it’s a Friday or Saturday we usually can keep them on a little later but Monday through Thursday we really have to be much more attentive to the time and as it was we got lucky because we got no complaints from the residents for leaving them on as long as we did, which was a little after 10 p.m.”
“All of the games start at 7 p.m. and are only six innings long so usually the lights getting turned out on a game is rare but we just got a game that dragged on,” said Becerra. “I thought the kids did a good job of handling the situation.”
Long before the lights went out, Becerra watched with delight as his Springs minors stars came out clicking, scoring seven runs in the first two innings. In addition to his son, Mikey Becerra contributing with an RBI double, Jace Cabezas came up big as well with a two-RBI triple while Michael Rivera, who would wind up going two-for-three at the plate in addition to putting on a great defensive display at shortstop, contributed with a single that brought in two runs.
But the 11-3 lead after three innings would not prove to be enough as NMB rallied for three runs in the top of the fourth and three more in the fifth to make it 11-9. Two more runs scored in the top of the sixth to tie it before the plug literally got pulled, suspending the game.
“We just ran into a situation where we ran out of pitching,” said Becerra. “We had pitch counts to worry about and a big game against Liberty City coming up on Saturday.”
Unfortunately keeping the available arms did nothing to help Becerra or the Springs minors stars as Liberty City, the pre-tournament favorite, easily disposed of them by a 14-2 final on Saturday afternoon, June 28.
Immediately following the loss to NMB in the suspended game, the two teams, which finished as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, played again in a North Division semifinal. Liberty City had already defeated North Miami Beach on Friday and their win over Springs on Saturday locked up the No. 1 seed.
And things only got worse for Springs in the semifinal as the locals fell behind 10-1 after three innings. When North Miami Beach put runners on second and third and no outs in the fourth inning, it looked like Springs would get “mercy-ruled” out of the tournament.
But, thanks to a nifty defensive play by Rivera and another infield pop out, Springs got out of the jam and went on to extend the game the full six innings before losing 10-3.
“I know we didn’t come back and win it but I was proud of the kids the way they kept fighting all the way to the end,” said Becerra. “They could have just tossed in their gloves and allowed that run to cross in the fourth inning and gone home early but they didn’t and sometimes those can turn out to be lessons in life later on.”
Becerra said that, despite going 0 for 3 in the tournament, he still felt it was some valuable on-the-job training experience for his players.
“Of the 12 on the roster, eight of them were nine-year-olds,” said Becerra of an age group that consists of mostly 10-year-olds on the all star rosters. “That means all eight of them will be back next year a year older and with more experience and skills to really compete.”