Two of the most difficult things to do as a youth baseball coach is convincing parents to travel out-of-town for tournaments, and then going out and actually winning the thing.
So imagine convincing your parents to travel from El Paso to New York for a youth baseball tournament. Not a national championship or world series, but just a regular tournament.
That's what El Paso Pirates coach Steve Vecinco did. His 11-and-under team returned from the Big Apple with a big trophy.
The Pirates went unbeaten -- a perfect 8-0 -- against teams from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to win Triple Crown Sports' The New York City Experience.
"Each of the games were close," Vecinco said. "There were some well-coached, really good teams. It surprised me how well we did. Every day we were thinking, 'Here comes the letdown, the kids are tired,' but it never happened."
The tournament format was 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. doubleheaders on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with sight-seeing in the afternoons and at night.
"The kids responded well," Vecinco said. "I got a lot of compliments on some players and the team. We're a fast little team and we ran the bases a lot better than those teams did. We did a lot of little things that they are not used to seeing and that made a big difference."
The teams the Pirates beat on the way to the championship were the White Plains Tigers (New York), Navajo Gators (New York), Connecticut Heat and the Wyckoff Raiders (New Jersey).
"To go 8-0 versus some quality pitching and teams says a lot about our youth talent here in El Paso," Vecinco said. "Since it was a doubleheader format, we faced each teams' ace each day. “We used a five-pitcher rotation each day allowing two days rest for each of our pitchers. The talent of this team is just unbelievable for an 11-and-under team."
The Pirates -- Tommy Sandoval, Rolando Beltran, Jose Hurtado, Zack Siefkas, Dominic Vicencio, Eric Rojas, Louie Fernandez, Jonathan Mendez, Jose Solis, Matthew Peña -- won the El Paso County Sportspark league at 19-2 and are 35-3 overall.
"Winning the tournament was the most difficult thing to do," he said. "When it comes down to actually playing the game, you have to hope the kids are ready to perform and they were."
The decision to travel to New York was made by parents before the season started.
"In the past, we did one tournament a month and we travel out of town once a month," Vecinco said. "We would go to Albuquerque, Phoenix or Tucson, but this past year, knowing we were going to go to New York, we didn't do that; we didn't do any traveling at all so we could save money."
It was a total team commitment. Each month there was a deadline where money needed to be turned in and deposits needed to be paid.
"It was kind of hard because there were so many tournaments going on in and out of town," he said. "We wanted to go and play but we bit the bullet on that. We had a goal and we knew it was going to be expensive."
He said the New York experience was well worth the price. The team visited the 9/11 Memorial, a remembrance of the people killed in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Even before we left, we met with the players and explained to them what the significance of 9-11 is," Vecinco said. "Some of the kids weren't even born, some where only two or three months old when this happened. A lot of them had heard about it but they did not understand the magnitude of it. For us adults, it was tough."
The team went to the top of Rockefeller Center on Monday, a Yankee game (vs. the Texas Rangers) on Tuesday, practiced at Central Park and took a Harbor Cruise on Wednesday.
"We went to the top of the Rock which is one of the tallest building in New York that gives you a 360 view of New Jersey, the Hudson River, Central Park," he said. "The Harbor Cruise took us around the Statue of Liberty and under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was about an hour and half boat ride but it was interesting."
The team even took in a Broadway show.
"We saw Spiderman," he Vecinco said. "When you're in New York, you have to see a Broadway show. It was pretty good." After winning the championship on Friday, the team celebrated by going to Coney Island. "The kids walked around the pier and got on the rides there," he said. "It was a great experience."
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6128. Follow him on Twitter @vrmart