Wednesday, August 1, 2012

High School Players in Baseball Tournement

Three local high school baseball players head to Cuba to play in baseball tournament

Special to this Newspaper
11:29 p.m. PDT, July 28, 2012

Three Imperial Valley high school baseball players are learning that baseball transcends all borders.

At the end of June, Leopoldo Gila Madrid, 16, of Calexico High, Tristen Carranza and Izar Mendez, 17, both of Brawley Union High, played in a tournament in Cuba, one of the world powerhouses in the sport.

All three played for Los Plebes “Mexican Boys” team of Temecula, a team managed by Calexico native Gus Niebla. 

“We were in a tournament and I was approached with the idea of playing in Cuba,” Niebla said. “The team and their parents were for it and so we got permits and flew from Mexico City to Cuba because there are no flights from the U.S.

Los Plebes, and another team from San Diego, made the trip to Cuba.

Los Plebes Mexican Boys mantra came when Niebla realized that his team was all Mexican, included three players from Mexicali.

“Tristan and I play with Los Plebes and they invited us and I was excited and saw it as a chance to travel and see a different culture,” said Madrid, an infielder and pitcher. “I’ve traveled in Mexico but never that far away …. I had the mentality going over there that the Cubans were very good at baseball and that the language would be different.”

Mendez does not play travel ball, but the Brawley senior jumped at the opportunity to join the team.

“I like to travel and my grandmother had been there … it was something that not everybody does,” said Mendez, who pitched and played right field. “We played two games a day so there wasn’t much sightseeing except when we changed cities.”

While agreeing that the food and the tropical humidity were the two things they weren’t thrilled about, each of the players brought back from Cuba a unique prospective.

“They were very friendly, wanted to know where we were from, what we ate and they knew our Spanish was Central American and Havana was very cool, very classic architecture, very old school. Every car was old,” Calexico junior Madrid said. “It made me a better player to see how they play, that they cheered each other on, even when they made errors … they seem to enjoy playing the game just for itself.”

Mendez bonded with his new teammates and enjoyed the experience.

“I made friends with the players on the team and generally everybody there was very friendly,” Mendez said. “I really enjoyed it, seeing something new, playing baseball, which I love, and just being in the moment.”

Carranza, who played third base at Brawley as a freshman, came back with a new appreciation for his culture.

“I thought it was great, everything was good except the food and you know they are very poor compared to us,” Carranza said. “They were always asking us for my socks and stuff and I gave away cleats, helmets, bats … I learned to appreciate what I have here because they don’t have it … even more than I appreciated it before I went.” 

In addition to the off-the-field experiences, Los Plebes acquitted themselves well on the field, going 5-3 on the trip. They even played against the 16-and-under Cuban National Team, which Los Plebes lost, 6-0.

“There were a couple of good pitchers on the national team but their hitting is awesome on all levels … we were in the games we lost and considering baseball is all they do, we held our own,” Niebla said. “Everybody had a great time and we are already thinking about accepting an invitation to the Dominican Republic next summer.”

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