A baseball team loaded with Bronx talent won seven straight games to capture a World Series championship in the Dominican Republic last month.
Ricardo Fernandez, a 12-year old first baseman and pitcher from Pelham Parkway, called the fifth annual Moca 2009 competition a “dream.”
Fernandez and his friends beat out squads from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Ecuador. Moca 2009 – named for its host city – is an International Baseball Little League event, different from the World Series held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
New York manager Gabriel Barcacel lives in the south Bronx. He grew up in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Barcacel handpicked his team three months before Moca 2009.
“Most of my players are from the Bronx,” Barcacel said. “All neighborhoods.”
While the Williamsport World Series enjoys corporate sponsorship, the Moca World Series is pure baseball, Barcacel said. To prepare, Barcacel drilled his team six days a week.
“We practiced like pros,” Barcacel said. “We ran a baseball academy, not a daycare.”
The team arrived in Moca at 3 a.m. and rose, jetlagged, for a 10 a.m. opener against Dominican powerhouse Distrito Nacional. New York lost 12-2. Facing elimination, Barcacel’s boys rallied against hosts Moca. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Alex Sanchez smacked home run. New York prevailed 6-5.
“That game gave us the faith that baseball angels do exist,” Fernandez said.
New York won again, and again and again. According to Barcacel, teamwork was key.
“I told the kids, ‘This is your moment,’” Barcacel said. “They responded. They really did.”
Joel Paulino of Belmont, 12, pitched a shutout against Panama. Paulino’s father is from the Dominican Republic. His grandmother, two aunts and cousins live there.
“Playing in the Dominican Republic, it felt good,” Paulino said. “It felt like home.”
New York took on Neyba, a Dominican team, for the championship. In the game’s first inning, catcher Andy Camilo stepped to the plate with the bases loaded.
“I told him, ‘They’re going to give you a strike,’” Barcacel said. “‘A fast ball.’ And I was right. Boom. He hit a grand slam.”
The team hasn’t disbanded yet. Next stop: Mexico.
Barcacel believes Bronx little leaguers deserve more respect. Danny Almonte, a Moca-born Bronxite who lied about his age, was the subject of a media circus in 2001.
“The Bronx represents,” Barcacel said. “People know about Danny Almonte, but we have a lot of good players – good kids.”