A year ago, the excitement was building for the pending arrival of the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series. As the host squads, Bartow was guaranteed a spot, meaning state tournament play was not necessary.
That was then, this is now, as they say.
If Bartow wants to be in the World Series, held this year in Laurel, Miss., they are going to have to do it the way 11 of the teams that came to Bartow had to do it last year.
The first steps have already been taken. The Majors (12 and under) and AAA (10 and under) teams have advanced through district play. The Majors start their state tournament today and the AAA squad hits the road next week, facing a seven-hour ride to Freeport, Fla., to try to become Florida’s representative. They are currently trying to raise money for the trip.
Heavy clouds were surrounding the George Pittas Complex earlier this week, which has been typical. The team has been working to get in practice where they can, sometimes chased from the field, forced to retreat to the enclosed batting cages for hitting practice. On this night, coaches and supporters watched from the relative safety of the first base dugout as the team was warming up. Given the pending Independence Day holiday, it was likely the last practice before heading to tournament play.
While the AAA team faces a long drive, the Majors will be staying within their district for their state tournament action. The DeSoto County team, based in Arcadia, will get a first round bye for hosting the activity. Bartow’s squad will make a 50 mile drive to Arcadia for tournament play, starting today.
Bartow earned the berth by winning the District 7 tournament, which did not include DeSoto County because they are hosting the state action. Bartow opened with a win over Mulberry and then reeled off back-to-back victories over Frostproof. The final game fell on an emotional night honoring the memory of AAA All-Star Keyon Torres and Bartow completed the sweep by defeating Mulberry for a second time.
“Pitching and defense were our strengths through the district,” said assistant coach Mike Walker. “There’s a lot of team speed here too.”
The team is also very versatile, giving the coaches plenty of options for defense and batting order.
If the weather cooperates, Bartow is scheduled to open their tournament play at 12:30 p.m. They will face off against Bushnell American, one of two teams from the Bushnell organization in play. Bushnell is the defending Florida state champion and parlayed that honor to become the 2013 World Series champion on the very field where the Bartow squad was practicing. Many players from the Bushnell team have moved on due to the age requirements in Dixie Youth Baseball. Past accomplishments mean little since it is what goes on between the lines today that determines the course for the future.
A win today pits Bartow against the winner of the Brooksville/Franklin County game. A Bartow loss would put the team in an elimination game against the loser of the Brooksville/Franklin County contest. Games are scheduled for consecutive days with the finals scheduled for Thursday, July 11.
Team members for 2013 include Jordan Daughtry, Carlos Fernandez, Ryan Harbin, Noah Lewis, Jake Manley, Mason Neller, Jacob Olinger, Jonathan Sloan, Nic Tamayo, Bryce Walker, David Wilson and Tucker Wiltrout, John Marc Tamayo is the team’s manager with assistant coaches Wayne Olinger and Mike Walker.