I was making the drive south to Key Largo a few weeks ago for the Majors District 8 championship game that Miami Springs, for the first time in a very long time, was involved in. My company for the trip happened to be majors head coach Robert Gonzalez-Pino.
It was only a short year ago that Gonzalez-Pino was coaching the Miami Springs minors all-stars to the District 8 title game before falling to Kendall and he would meet the same fate on this day as the Kendall majors proved to be too much for Springs, emerging a 10-5 winner after breaking open a close game in the late innings.
Even though the parents of the kids made the long drive home back up U.S. 1 having come up short of what would have been a first-ever district title for a Springs majors team, solace could be taken in that a pretty darn good team had been put together and Gonzalez-Pino was right at the center of it.
It was a year ago that he pulled me aside and told me of how Miami Springs had gone after some new boundaries that allowed him to go after other kids from areas outside of the Springs, including Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens and Miami Lakes and that he intended to take advantage of it. Which he did.
Which leads us to this editorial because with every success story, as sometimes happens in this town, comes what I like to call “the grumbling.”
The “grumbling” this time came from a few folks who griped about the fact that only a single kid, Anthony Nuñez, was actually a Springs resident. The rest hailed from other areas, mostly across the river in Hialeah.
So, of course, the battle cry was, “They’re not truly a Miami Springs team.”
Quite true, no doubt about it.
But the reality of the situation nowadays has become this: The days of “your little hometown” Little League team would appear to be in the rearview mirror. Unless you want to field a team that, to put it politely, can’t compete with the other teams.
Exhibit A would be this year’s minors stars. This was a roster made up of just about all Springs kids and, bless their hearts, they went out and played hard but didn’t win a single game in their own round-robin Northern division tournament, including a pair of lopsided losses against Liberty City and North Miami Beach in the second and third games.
The minors coaches, for reasons possibly ranging from simply not having the time or resources to go out and “beat the bushes” for outside talent the way Gonzalez-Pino did, were unable to field the talent the majors did.
OK. No problem. It is what it is and everyone does the best that they can do with the time and resources they have.
What irks me is then you get the old “the coaches don’t know what the heck they’re doing” complaint.
But if you have somebody in Gonzalez-Pino who gets out there and hustles up talent and stays within the rules, who is anyone else to judge?
The reality of the situation today is that when we’re all sitting in front of a TV and watching Little League regional games and the Little League World Series on ESPN in coming weeks, we won’t be watching any of our good-old fashioned “neighborhood” teams.
Things change over time and the way things are today is that boundaries are wider and, as a result, traveling teams, most of them year-round and calling one particular town or area “home,” have been formed.
Sitting in a car with Gonzalez-Pino that day, we learned that the guy doesn’t even have a son on this team. He just does it … well because he enjoys it.
A current pharmaceutical rep, Gonzalez-Pino, who moved into his Huntinglodge Drive home three years ago, admitted that he put in as many, if not more hours to Little League than he does his own job and launching a side business involving sports apparel.
He is also extremely well connected. His wife is the sister of Alex Fernandez’s wife. The same Alex Fernandez who pitched for Monsignor Pace, the University of Miami, the Florida Marlins and is now the director of baseball operations at a high school baseball juggernaut also known as Archbishop McArthy. That’s a pretty good pipeline, wouldn’t you agree?
What Gonzalez-Pino ultimately wants to do is get more Miami Springs kids on the roster but he added you can’t do it without that undivided, “total” commitment from parents with their kids.
It’s a year-round process. Not just signing them up in January and grabbing them by the hand and taking off for summer vacation once school is out.
A nice pat on the back to Coach Gonzalez-Pino in this column as his hard work and dedication to the local Miami Springs Little League has managed to put some pretty darn good teams on the field. No matter what community they’re from, they still have the words “Miami Springs” emblazoned across their chest.