River Cities

Local Virginia Gardens youngster turns in magnificent pitching performance

With the heat and dog days of summer now upon us, three separate items a semi-bored editor feels like musing on:

• As I was covering the high school state baseball finals for The Miami Herald in Fort Myers a few weeks ago, it was amazing to watch one of our very own local kids, Virginia Gardens resident Kevin Fuentes, enjoy every pitcher’s dream moment.

Not only was he handed the baseball as the starting pitcher in a Class 6A state championship game for Mater Academy against Winter Haven High School, but Fuentes went out there and performed like he owned JetBlue Park, firing a one-hit, no-walk, complete game to lead his team to a 1-0 victory.

In a venue where I have seen many talented kids come to pieces dealing with nerves on a big stage in such a big moment, the young lad was absolutely unflappable.

It was like he had been sitting around waiting for all of his 17 years, including his days not long ago playing in Miami Springs Little League, for that moment. It was as if that moment belonged to him and nobody was going to take it away.

And that effort was right on the heels of one just two weeks earlier in which he stepped on to the mound at Miami Springs High School in a regional semifinal contest. With Mater ace Mike Mediavilla getting rocked and  chased by the Golden Hawks bats, Fuentes stepped on to a pitcher’s mound just blocks from his house, and coolly retired 10 of the last 11 Springs batters to preserve the one-run lead he had inherited.

Not to be outdone, another member of the Mater team,  Springs resident Danny Reyes was the No. 3 hitter in the Lions’ lineup and all he did was bat .408 and earn  first-team all-county honors from The Miami Herald. He, too, was a product of the Miami Springs Little League.

I bring these two up because I was recently approached by a rather disgruntled individual (after I had done a separate sidebar in the Gazette on Fuentes and Reyes following their triumphant “homecoming” return to Miami Springs in that regional playoff game) who mildly complained about, “Why aren’t these two kids wearing a Springs baseball uniform?” and, “How could we let them get away?”

My answer was as diplomatic as it could be. I can only surmise that there could have been a multitude of reasons surrounding the decision. You name it, from teachers, to coaches, to friends, to girlfriends, heaven knows the factors that go into where a kid chooses to go to high school.

Heck, the Hawks baseball team lost an even better player than those two a few years ago when Willie Abreu, now starting for the University of Miami, left Springs for Mater.

One thing is fact, though, and that is, as a charter school, Mater enjoys a huge advantage over public schools such as Springs because, in essence, there are no boundaries and it doesn’t cost a dime to attend.

Virtually any kid, provided they meet the academic criteria, can go there. And the fact is that the school, tucked away in a corner just west of the Palmetto Expressway, now 11 years old, has become awfully good in many of the major sports.

The Mater Academy football and boys basketball teams enjoyed their most successful season and then comes the state champion baseball team.

Fuentes and Reyes will both return as seniors next year and, oh, what Springs head baseball coach Willie Vasquez wouldn’t do to see either one or both of them wearing a Springs uniform. But if these two young men are happy where they are, happy with the decisions that have been made that landed them at Mater, more power to them. And, with each sizing up their right ring fingers for championship rings, I don’t think anyone could blame them.

• Patience, Patience!

I know all of the construction going on around the Circle between Starbucks and Johnny’s Luncheonette is an annoyance, especially to drivers coming in off the incoming bridge and the business owners affected, but when the new crosswalk is done, it will look modern and up-to-date.

The much-antiquated and outdated crosswalk with the old standard blinking yellow light was way outdated and there was hardly an incoming driver who paid any attention to it or a pedestrian looking to cross. So much so that Miami Springs police on occasion set up their little “sting” operation, using someone’s attempt to cross as a way of nailing the motorist who did not yield.

The nuisance on North Royal Poinciana in front of the high school is another matter, but there’s not much we can do about that. A broken water main stretching all the way into Medley, which also has disrupted the railroad crossing, had to be fixed. Hopefully, everything will be back to normal in that area by the time you read this.

• Speaking of that railroad crossing: If I could add up the time lost there in the last quarter of a century waiting for that darn train, either leaving or coming into the Springs, I probably could get three or four years of my life back!

A dozen years back or so, they built a much-needed underpass on the Hialeah side to accommodate Okeechobee Road and what a godsend that was for “the folks on that side of the river.”

But that didn’t help us poor “Springs folks” who sometimes are stuck sitting there for up to 20 minutes while long trains slowly trudge their way into the train yard to the west of the Ludlum canal.

Was it money? Is North Royal Poincians Boulevard too close to the Miami River and thus impossible to dig below? Okeechobee Road seems just as close to the river and somehow they managed to do it.

Perhaps somebody out there  can enlighten me as to why we continue to give years of our lives away waiting for those darn trains. For the time being, though, my suggestion to you would be to make sure you bring something to read in the car on your way out of town, in case those gates come down as you approach.