Four teams advance as NYBC pool play opens
YAPHANK, N.Y. -- Catcher Oscar Favela was ready for a curveball but got a fastball instead. It hit his thumb and eventually he had to exit the game to stop the swelling.
Cross-ups between batterymates are common in baseball. But for 12-year-olds, expecting a different pitch than the one you're receiving isn't usually a problem. The speed differential -- really, just the speed in general -- isn't great enough to cause any harm in the game or to the backstop.
But Friday afternoon, during the first day of pool play for the National Youth Baseball Championship, lefty Joseph Naranjo was on the mound. Representing SGV Hustle, led by head coach Robert Prieto and ranked No. 1 by Baseball Youth Magazine, Naranjo reared back and fired 77 mph fastballs and paired them with curveballs nearly 20 mph slower. This 12-year-old was in a different league.
Most of the SGV Hustle team is, too. Throughout its season, it plays up an age group and it showed Friday, winning its first two games by scoring 29 runs and allowing just one. That was helped by Naranjo, who shut out the VSA Vipers in the second game over three innings en route to 12-0 victory. Kyle Kirkland helped with two home runs and four RBIs and finished out the run-rule-shortened game on the mound.
"He's one of our top two pitchers. He's tough to hit," said Prieto of Naranjo, who racked up six strikeouts and whose velocity from 50 feet is equivalent to a high 90s fastball from a Major League mound. "He throws strikes, he throws hard. He's just getting loose. He usually goes full games."
Even Ray DeLeon, head coach of former champions Banditos Black from Houston, which also finished 2-0 on the day, was impressed. "I've been around 12-U baseball for a long time and your team can play," Prieto said DeLeon told him.
"What makes it competitive with these guys is they compete with each other," Prieto said. "We constantly compete with each other at practice. I feel like we have some of the best players in the nation on our team, nothing better than competing with them every day at practice."
It's the first time that SVG Hustle, from Azusa, Calif., has come to Long Island and participated with the NYBC, but they're still familiar with the four other California teams playing, especially the Vipers, a squad from San Fernando Valley that they've beaten seven times already this season.
"[The] Vipers are a great team. We've played them for years," said Prieto. "They're a good team, anything can happen with a good team."
The familiarity extends past the white lines at the Baseball Heaven complex. Players from top-ranked San Juan Capistrano-based BPA DeMarini Elite, who finished with two wins as well, were quick to greet other Californian rivals over dinner while parents caught up in between games, commenting on their regional roads to get to Long Island.
Head coach Mike Sagaro and his team MVP Elite from Miami had no problem fitting in either. They're one of the few teams that have traveled to Nevada, Arizona and California, stacking up a resume that includes beating BPA in the Elite World Series last summer as well as defeating SVG Hustle in Las Vegas.
They opened up their tournament with a 16-2 victory over Team B.E.A.S.T., smashing seven home runs in the process. In the final game of the first day, they kept their power stroke, which included the longest home run of the day from Andrew Fernandez, his first of two, that hit the roof of the indoor batting cage a good 20 feet behind the center-field wall.
"It gets the other kids on the bench in the game so at least they break that first time in-the-game feel," said Sagaro.
That was the exclamation point to a day that featured many home runs as well as lopsided outcomes. San Diego Show was one of six teams to go undefeated in its bracket (the last was Team Florida) while local teams -- the Long Island Titans, Team Baseball Heaven and Team B.E.A.S.T. -- each lost their first two contests, the latter in heartbreaking fashion to end the night.
Pool play finishes Saturday afternoon before the top eight teams are seeded for a single-elimination bracket beginning Saturday night. Four teams -- San Diego Show, Team Florida, Team MVP and BPA DeMarini -- have already advanced.
"You've got to take it one step at a time, the matchups will come," said Sagaro, trying not to look too far ahead.
If MVP Elite plays with a little more desire, it's because they were the Runners Up in 2013's NYBC Final. It's something MC Sagaro, Yoyo Morales, and Joseph Cruz remember fervently, then 11-year-olds playing with teammates a year above them.
"My son's goal was to come back and do it again with his age group, his real age group," said Sagaro. "I'm excited for him, I'm happy for him."