By Robert Van Name
March 2, 2012, Doral Meadows Baseball field, the evening was warm with a slight breeze, the air was thick with anticipation and excitement at the start of another great Doral Little League baseball season here in Doral! From the rookie DLL T-Ball players to the seasoned veterans and coaches of the major and junior leagues, all were enthusiastic and eager to start the season!
As a founder and the first President of the Doral Little League it was easy for me to become nostalgic on this historic evening in our baseball history, reflecting back to that inaugural season of 2003, what a wondrous year!
In the spring of 2002, after a community Doral Municipal Advisory Committee (DMAC) meeting (where I served as Board Member), where area residents came to discuss the feasibility of the pending City of Doral incorporation, I met with a group of young father’s (Tony Cruz, Jay Pico and Jose Garcia and others) to discuss what youth sporting programs and activities were needed in the emerging City of Doral, keeping in mind we had thousands of school aged children living in Doral, with no public parks or youth programs! The discussion led to baseball, my first love. All felt strongly about the need to establish a youth baseball program. Not an easy task since there were no public baseball-fields in Doral at that time!
Since I had already helped form and had coached Little League baseball and Special Olympics softball programs for 14 years in New Jersey …, I felt I could help!
We wasted no time, founding and forming a Little League Baseball Charter for Doral in October 2002. “Little League” is the largest “International” youth baseball program in the world and hosts the renowned Little League World Series each August in Williamsport, Pa., with a strong local presence in the Miami-Dade area, we felt this would be a great match for Doral!
The real challenge, no baseball fields! As a Board Member of Doral Isles Residents Home Owners Association I approached the Doral Isles HOA Board and Community for approval to use the community’s ball field to support our Little League program until public ball fields could be built. With the strong support of the then HOA President Juan Carlos Bermudez, our present Mayor and the Doral Isles Community at large the Board approved the use of their ball field. I knew then God must be a baseball fan!
We quickly formed a DLL Board and began planning for the start of our Doral Little League program, proposed to start early 2003. All seemed to be going well! We scheduled our initial registration and Try-out (a “misnomer” because all who register are assigned a team and play). The Try-out is used to evaluate player’s skills for team placement and league balance at a players draft by coaches and league officials. Prior to this first Try-out no one knew what the community interest would be in the Little League program, we were in uncharted waters!
The inaugural Try-out was scheduled for the first Saturday in December 2002, I planned to arrive at the Doral Isles field at 8 am to get the field and the equipment set-up, still not knowing what to except. Upon arrival I simply could not believe my eyes! There were already hundreds of children and parents lined-up to register to play baseball! In fact over 210 players registered to play that inaugural season; we fielded 14 teams of 15 players per team, with full participation in T-Ball, Minor and Major league divisions. All of our games that first year were at Doral Isles ball field, T-ball games were played in the grassy knoll adjacent to the ball field. The League grew to 24 teams with 340 players registered in our second year!
At this moment, Doral went from no Little League program to one of the largest and best run programs in all of South Florida! DLL provided league administration, scheduling, coaches and umpire training and support, quality baseball equipment and uniforms. Total funding included; a nominal player registration fee and team sponsorships, no public funds were used!
That First Opening Day in January 2003 had all the pomp and circumstance of a major sporting event, the crowd was estimated over 1500+ family and friends in attendance.
All of the teams were lined up in the outfield; coaches and players by teams were announced individually and marched on to the field for the first time! The loud speakers echoed with excitement, “Billy the Marlin” made his grand entrance, the event complete with a beautiful young lady, with an angelic voice to sing our nations National Anthem. Traditional foods; hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jacks were served. Local officials were recognized, some spoke, yours truly threw-out the first ceremonial pitch, an honor I will never forget! A great day to say the least!
The Doral Little League had become a true Cinderella Story! Truly a great learning and teaming experience for all involved. Like all good stories we had our share of successful “David and Goliath” scenarios. The Dodgers managed by Jim Gimbel, were the power house of the minor league division going undefeated in regular league play of 18+ games! In the end of year DLL Intra-league tournament the Mighty Dodgers found itself matched-up against the, well the not so mighty Mets, a team I coached, who had a difficult regular season mustering only 4 wins, but showed continued improvement through-out the year and were peaking going into the tournament. Yes you guessed it the Mets won the tournament with 2 over powering wins over the mighty Dodgers, in the tradition of Bad-News-Bears, a “Kodak” moment to say the least. The Dodgers coaches and players showed true class and great sportsmanship that day in their sincere congratulations to the Mets on their victory. It made me proud to be part of this great league!
The DLL major league Yankees coached by Tony Cruz in similar fashion entered the end of year DLL Intra-League tournament against the previous unbeaten Red Sox, a team I also coached and won the tournament with a great come-back victory in the final game! The little engine that could … did! Baseball at its’ best, that’s why we play the game.
Another successful “David and Goliath” scenario that year was our major league division Giants coached by Jay Pico. The Giants had a difficult time during the regular season, but were always competitive and well coached. The Giants along with our other major division teams, Red Sox and Yankees entered into an end of year Inter-League Tournament that was hosted by the Aventura Little League, representing South Florida area teams and leagues. The Giants would be considered the clear underdog in this tournament by any account. A fact that obviously was missed by the Giants players and coaches because they proceeded to win this tournament in heroic fashion, giving the Doral Little League its’ first ever Inter-League Championship!
Wow… What a year, you could not have scripted it any better! A year to remember!
The first season was so successful, we decided to introduce a fall training league to aid in the development of players, coaches and yes umpires, another enormous success!
The second full season started off with much continued success, growing exponentially in both players and teams. The majority of our games were again played at Doral Isles, but the league had grown with additional teams and we added a Coach pitch and junior divisions to provide increased baseball opportunities. As the result DLL expanded its’ play to other fields in Virginia Gardens, Hialeah Gardens, Sweetwater, Doral Academy, Ronald Reagan and as far away as Homestead, proving where there is a will, there is a way!
As the proud first President of the DLL, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the other members of the first Board to include: Tony Cruz, Jay Pico, Jose Garcia, Michael Wermuth, Miguel Basalo and Felipe Madrigal, these wonderful volunteers worked tirelessly in the spirit of community to lay the foundation to guide the path for the future success of the Doral Little League. You did our City proud! Thank you!
On behalf of that first DLL Board we would like to offer a heartfelt congratulations and thank you to all the succeeding Presidents, their Board Members and to the City of Doral for helping to grow the Doral Little League into the “premier” youth baseball program in all of South Florida!
The City of Doral formally in 2005 awarded the Doral Little League as the provider of youth baseball for the City and has built some of the best award winning baseball facilities anywhere at the Doral Meadows Park in support of this program.
All of Doral recognizes the accomplishments of the Doral Little League proudly and wish you the very best of luck in your coming 10th season! Go Doral Little League, we love you! Doral Baseball fever… Catch It! See you at the game!
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