VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Opening Day starter Henry Nunez was in his comfort zone pitching for the Senior Division Puerto Rico RBI Carolina team on Monday at the RBI World Series. The 18-year-old twirled 3 1/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball, striking out six while walking just one in a 3-2 win over RBI Austin.
Leaving his home in strife-ridden Puerto Rico and coming to South Florida has been a blessing.
“It’s been a great experience. Being in Puerto Rico, the stuff has happened in Puerto Rico and being here is different,” Nunez said. “And knowing new people from different states is very cool.”
Nunez said he can’t choose what he likes best about being in South Florida -- it’s all good.
“Everything,” he said. “When we got here, the shirts, the book bag, it was great. Everything is good.”
In his first, and as it turns out last year with RBI, Nunez has enjoyed every minute.
“It’s been great,” he said. “The regionals were tough, but this right here is more tough than anything. A lot of competition, a lot of stars, a lot of prospects -- I think it’s very good, experience-wise."
Nunez didn’t know that at 18 years of age, this is his one and only chance in RBI baseball. He wasn’t aware of that until after winning regionals.
“They were like, ‘No, this is your last year,’ so we’ve got to do stuff right now,” he said.
It took a three-hour plane right and a two-hour bus trip to reach Vero Beach, where Puerto Rico won regionals. So for Nunez, it's a comfort zone of sorts staying at the Jackie Robinson Complex -- now the permanent home of the RBI World Series -- to play the tournament.
“I feel [right at] home,” Nunez said.
Puerto Rico split its first two games of pool play, and Nunez is hoping the team can put together a win streak to take home the championship trophy.
“We’re coming back Thursday to see if we can go to the finals,” he said.
Thursday games will determine which two teams play for the RBI World Series championship.
Puerto Rico RBI Carolina Senior Division coach Kielvin Rivas, in his first year on the coaching staff, echoed Nunez’s sentiments.
“It’s been a really good experience,” said Rivas. “There were some really good teams at regionals, and now they’re a little bit better players here. Everything is better and it’s been a really good experience for the players.”
Competing in the mainland is not unusual for this traveling squad, according to Rivas.
“They’ve been to a few tournaments in the U.S.A., but this is the first time in RBI,” he said.
Both Puerto Rico RBI Carolina Junior and Senior Division teams have qualified for the 2019 RBI World Series, speaking volumes about the level of play there.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Rivas said. “It shows the kind of baseball that’s played in Puerto Rico.”
Rivas said the talk among players has been overwhelmingly positive in regard to the overall experience.
“They talked about paying attention to us, like security and everything,” he said. “They love it. They like it here. They like [the Jackie Robinson Complex]. They like the fields.”
Giving back is what drew Rivas to the RBI program.
“To help the kids. I wanted to teach them to do the right things,” said Rivas, who is proud be part of the RBI organization. “I think it really helps the kids a lot.”