18U Travel Team Rankings
Armed with a philosophy and mind-set different from most,
and an almost single-minded focus on working to be the nation’s best has helped
separate the Florida Bombers from many of their top-notch travel-team brethren.
The Florida Bombers is a high school-age program that
targets ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th graders.
All the teams play under the “Bombers” banner, and in the past several years
anywhere between 150 and 180 players are involved during the summer.
Based in Miami, Fla., the Florida Bombers first started as
a local team in 1998 when Emilio Fernandez, after a short two-year professional
baseball career, decided to put together a team of high school-age players. The
team was originally called the Miami Bombers in its first year, but switched to
the Florida Bombers in 1999.
The program held tryouts for the first time in 1999 and it
was in subsequent years things really took off. Every year this decade, the
Bombers have fielded one of the most successful 18U teams in the country, one
with 11 national championships to its credit.
“It’s been a pretty exciting ride and it’s come a long way
from 1998 to now,” Fernandez said. “It’s been a pattern here over the last few
years where early on in the summer we start off a little slow, and then once
school’s over and guys are here and you’re able to kind of get into a routine
that we started to play really, really good baseball.”
It was in 2002 when the Bombers first stepped onto the
national stage and developed their singular focus. They won the inaugural
Perfect Game USA WWBA 18U National Championship in Marietta, Ga., that year and
were 50-0 at the completion of the tournament.
The Bombers went back to Marietta in 2003 and won again,
and the WWBA 18U National Championship had officially become the focus of their
summer season. They won back-to-back championships again in 2005-06, and added
titles five and six in 2008 and this year. They have played in seven of the
nine tournament championship games.
“It’s gotten a lot bigger, a lot more competitive over the
years,” Fernandez said of the Perfect Game 18U WWBA Nationals. “That is
basically what we pin our hats on. We feel that that’s just the most
prestigious, most noteworthy event that goes on in the summer.”
The Bombers finished this summer season with a 43-5 record
and at one point enjoyed a 33-game win streak.
The championships are special, of course, but the runner-up
finish in 2009 is the event Fernandez can’t wipe from his mind.
The Bombers played in the championship game against the
East Cobb (Ga.) Braves and took a 10-1 lead into the final inning, only to
“It was one of the most incredible things you’ll ever see
in the game of baseball,” Fernandez said. “That was very tough to swallow a
year ago. That was not easy and it stayed with us. We had a good core of
players coming back in 2010, and all they talked about was getting back to that
game and, obviously, winning it.”
The Bombers earned a rematch with Braves in the 2010
championship game and won dramatically when tournament MVP C.T. Bradford
smacked an RBI single that scored the winning run in the bottom of the seventh.
“That was very rewarding for all the players and the
organization,” Fernandez said. “It felt like it was a year in waiting, but we
finally got to where we wanted to be.”
There are also Florida Bomber 17U and 16U teams.
“The 16-and-under team is usually a highly competitive
club, and it’s a lot of young guys that we are looking to for the future,”
Fernandez said. “We also have a Florida Bombers 17 which is mostly high school
juniors that are good players and maybe not at the level of the 18-and-under
Florida Bombers, but they are still good enough to have in your program and
they’re going to compete very well and do a good job.”
Many of the players in the program are what Fernandez calls
“organizational” players who may never be moved up to the elite 18U team.
“They may not be quite as talented, but they want to play
and they want to play in an organized environment, they want to play on good
fields and go to good tournaments,” Fernandez said. “We call those guys
‘organizational’ guys, guys who are going to be involved. They’re not (NCAA)
Division I talent and they’re not even Division II players, but they’re good
enough to go out there and participate.”
The Bombers have sent loads of players into the college
ranks and dozens have been selected in the Major League Draft. This year alone,
four members of the 2003 Bombers’ team made their Major League debuts – J.P. Arencibia with the Blue Jays, Jon Jay with the Cardinals,
Mat Latos with the Padres and Danny Valencia with the
Twins. Latos won 13 games in his first 23 starts with
an ERA of 2.33.
Fernandez is thrilled to be a part of Perfect Game
tournaments, where many of those current Major Leaguers first got noticed.
“I’ve had a very good relationship with Perfect Game
throughout the years, and it was ’02 since I
first became involved with them,” Fernandez said. “I think we have both treated
each other with mutual respect.
“They obviously put the best teams on the field in the best
environment possible to go after something that is very noteworthy and very
prestigious. What they hang their hat on, at least in the summer months, is the
(nationals) in Georgia and they do a very good job with that. I think the
Florida Bombers are good for them and Perfect Game is good for us.”
Young players become involved with the Bombers through a
“hands-on” approach practiced meticulously by Fernandez and the program’s other
“I myself like to see the players play. I like to see
them with my own eyes,” Fernandez said. “I like to figure out myself how
they’re going to fit in with our club. You don’t always need the big name, high
profile guy. You need the right guy, which is what I think we’ve been able to
do over the last decade or so.
“Year after year we’re not only able to compete with all
those high name guys but out-play those guys because we just feel that to be a
successful club you need to put the right guys on the field, the guys that are
going to buy into what you’re doing, the guys that are going to play hard and
the guys that are going to lay it on the line.”
Fernandez will take a team to the Perfect Game WWBA 18U
World Championships in Jupiter, Fla., at the end of October, but, but in their
typical non-conformist style, the Bombers view that tournament a little
differently than most of the other elite squads.
“It’s kind of a tryout period for us,” Fernandez said.
“We’ll put together guys now that we’ll see or we’ll hear about or we’ll
acquire, and we’ll do some research on them and we’ll put them on the field.
We’ll see who we like, who we don’t like, who fits and who doesn’t fit. From
there we’ll try to get a commitment from those players for the summer of 2011.”
Despite that approach, the Bombers have finished in the
top-eight at Jupiter each of the past three years.