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South Florida Baseball Carries On Across The Nation

Danbury Westerner’s Chris Riopedre reacts to a close play at home, on what could have been his winning hit in extra innings.

Baseball Beyond Borders

It could have gone for the winning hit.

That’s the way it goes in baseball. A nice outfield throw and tag at the plate preserved a tie game and robbed Danbury Westerners shortstop Chris Riopedre of the winning RBI single in the top of the 12th inning. The former South Florida ballplayer had come up with a man on second and had delivered a liner through the left side.

Even though it is nearly 1,500 miles away from South Florida, I find myself still captivated watching our local baseball talent showcased by Riopedre, who split his high school baseball between Archbishop McCarthy and Monsignor Pace.

The Westerners are on the road facing the North Adams Steeplecats in a contest at Joe Wolfe Stadium in downtown North Adams, Massachusetts. The meeting comes as part of the New England College Baseball summer league, a league which is represented by a fine crop of local South Florida stars. For me, this area is home. This is where I grew up as a child, where I learned the game in many ways. I am home for a visit and cannot resist a chance to watch some live baseball while I am here.

It comes as little surprise to me to see some of our locals taking the field, even so far from that home. I could be from anywhere in the country, it would seem, and I could likely still run across some of our locals there playing the game. Summertime means time to play baseball, just as it did back when they were kids playing in local South Florida youth leagues. These same guys battled the constant rain delays, the sweltering summer sun and the juggernaut of fielding teams as guys take their summer family vacations. These guys have never forgotten the memories they made in those summer baseball games, playing the game they love with their best friends. This helps to drive them to continue on and to play with this same passion that they learned growing up playing South Florida baseball.

It seems these guys always stand out on their teams. This is again the case in the NECBL teams I am fortunate to see while home visiting my family. For the local Steeplecats, former Westminster Christian standout Julian Lorat de Mola is the lone South Florida representative. Julian won two state titles playing for the Warriors, and now plays for Nova Southeastern University. For the Steeplecats he leads the club in RBIs and extra-base hits through their first dozen games this summer.

Saratoga Brigade and former Mater Academy ace Adrian Benitez pitches in the New England summer collegiate league.

Roots to the Steeplecats run long and deep, which includes back to 2004 when current Pine Crest manager Nick Manganaro pitched for the team.

Two nights later I return for another home game, and it comes as no shock that starting on the mound for the visitors is another South Florida local. Former Mater Academy ace Adrian Benitez gets the start for the visiting Saratoga Brigade. The right-hander plays for Barry University, and he tosses two perfect innings before the game is rained out by a thunder storm that seems to show up every night this time of year.

Our South Florida locals always represent themselves well, and they showcase the talent that comes out of our area.

For many ballplayers, the ultimate dream is to reach the Major Leagues. This past June several more of our former local stars achieved that goal when they were selected in the Amateur Draft. Each of these guys got their start playing on the same fields that the current local stars also call home. The dream is possible, and the love for the game is real.

Our ballplayers seem to end up all over the wide world, but none of them have forgotten the home that taught them the right way to play baseball.

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