The boys and girls of spring and summer are in full swing as baseball and softball seasons of all kinds are helping the Key Biscayne Community Center reestablish the Great American Pastime on the island.
With over 140 participants running, hitting, pitching and catching their way to good times, it looks like kids are starting to regain an interest in finding their own personal Field of Dreams.
Community Center Athletic Director Flip de Varona said it hasn’t been easy recruiting kids on Key Biscayne to the diamond, but it’s happening more and more. He said bat and ball sports were on the downturn in recent years because of the makeup of the community.
“It’s taken a hit because the demographics out here kind of lean towards field hockey, soccer and rugby,” de Varona said. “But lately there’s been a little resurgence with Eddie [Blanco]’s minor league T-ball and the same with softball. I credit the coaches in softball with keeping the girls interested and motivated.”
This year the Community Center is hosting four coach pitch teams, three mustang teams, two softball teams and one T-ball team, all of which are hitting their mid-season stride.
De Varona is proud of the way his coaches have started building for the future, especially Blanco, who is instructing the youngest kids and building their interest early. “Eddie took on the lone T-ball team to kind of make it like a farm system and get those guys ready for coach-pitch and maybe create some interest in T-ball for next season,” de Varona said.
Blanco, who is also the Village’s assistant athletics coordinator, enjoys the challenge of working with kids as young as 4, who are just learning their coordination, to help them embrace the game.
“I’m working with kids who are just learning to catch,” Blanco said. “I have to make the game fun for them because it’s a failure sport – if you hit three out of 10 you’re considered successful. It’s hard to keep them engaged.”
The older kids are really starting to progress, according to de Varona, who said their competitive spirit is starting to show. “Those guys and girls are great, looking for games with Palmetto Bay and teams we never played before and trying to get into tournaments,” he said. “They are showing signs of improvement and I think they are going to want to try and be more competitive next year and join a different league.”
Another fun twist to the game that has changed from years past is that the names of the various teams are taken from minor league teams rather than using the Major League Baseball monikers.
This year’s teams have names like The Express, Scrappers, Key Rats, Diamonds, Fireflies, Bandits, Mudcats, Knights and Tin Caps. It’s been a hit: “The kids like the cool logos,” Blanco said.
Both de Verona and Blanco said people tend to register their kids to play sports that they see most often and sports in the local area that are winning. “Everybody loves a winner, and the Marlins aren’t winning in Miami and won’t be for a couple years,” Blanco said. “When the World Cup is happening, everybody registers for soccer.”
The fact that people don’t drive down Crandon Boulevard looking at baseball diamonds also comes into play, according to the administrator and his coach.
“It would be nice, it would help to see a baseball diamond, and actually having a baseball field with a fence and having a goal to hit a homerun would be a nice thing for them,” Banco said.
“The only legit diamond we have now is at the Key Biscayne Community School with a full backstop and dugouts, and the allure of seeing things like that would help.”
Both de Verona and Blanco laughed at how that speaks to the truth in the famous Field of Dreams catchphrase, “If you build it they will come.”
With the Village losing access to lighted baseball fields at Crandon Park after this season, they realize they’re working to grow a sport even as they’ll have to find more space for it.
“Hopefully we’ll get some more kids next year,” de Varona said. “The biggest challenge now is field space, but we’ll see what we do next year, it’s going to be challenging again.”