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Ray DeLeon likes to challenge his guys in the Houston Banditos youth baseball program by having them compete against older players. That's why the Banditos Black 15-&-under team played in only one tournament against other 15U clubs this year, but it was a dandy.
The Banditos compiled a perfect 9-0 record in the WWBA National Championships in late July and won the tournament with a big comeback in the finals. Now the Banditos have been named the top 15-&-under team in the nation by Perfect Game USA.
"We had a great season," said DeLeon, who runs the Banditos program and helped coach the 15-&-under team. "What we're trying to do is get these kids to play good competition and get them seen."
With that philosophy, the Banditos faced a steady diet of 16U, 17U and 18U teams this season. Most of his 15U players were members of high school varsity teams this past season as freshmen, so DeLeon figured they could handle playing against older kids on a summer all-star team. He was right.
"We've established ourselves as one of the best organizations in the country," he declared.
Cory Geisler, Courtney Hawkins and C.J. Hinojosa were selected to play for the 16-&-under USA National Team last month in Taiwan, a testament to the talent on this year's squad. Giesler was named the Most Valuable left-handed pitcher on the National Team and was the Texas District 13-5A Co-Newcomer of the Year this past season. Hawkins was honored as the Most Valuable Pitcher at the 15U WWBA tournament and Hinojosa was selected for the 14-&-under USA National team as well as the 16U USA National team.
The Banditos enjoyed their week in Georgia for the WWBA 15U National Championships, but they trailed the Washington RIP Brewers, 8-0, in the championship game and faced an uphill climb. Ray DeLeon had other business and was not at the park for the finals, but his brother, Robert, ran the club and gave the Banditos a motivational speech after they fell behind.
"He told me he said, 'We came this far, and nobody is going to remember who finishes in second place,'" Ray DeLeon related. "I guess that was motivation enough."
The DeLeon brothers began the Houston Banditos program in the 1990's. They focused on younger players in the 8U through 14U brackets for many years, then added 15U through 18U clubs three years ago. They had 31 teams in the program this year, including 10 at the high school ages.
Ray DeLeon, 40, played college baseball at Texas-Pan American and played pro baseball for 13 years. Robert DeLeon, 36, played for the University of Texas and was a member of the club that reached the 1992 College World Series. Robert played for nine years in the minor leagues.
Ray said they started the Houston Banditos program after a young 9-year-old boy named David Macias failed to make a tryout team. "At 9 years old they cut him, and I was real upset by that," DeLeon said. "They said he was too small to play."
DeLeon disagreed with that assessment and decided to start his own program. "We literally built a team around him," he said. "Basically, that's how I started."
Macias developed into a top high school player in Texas, played at Vanderbilt and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He's playing for the Cubs in the minor leagues now, making DeLeon extremely proud. "David Macias was a great role model," he said. "Nobody wanted him and now he's playing for the Cubs."
The Banditos attract most of their players from Houston and the surrounding area, a talent-laden part of the country. One of their teams, which played 14U ball this summer, won 155 games in a row the past three years, a national record.
The teams in the Banditos organization have played in 34 states since the program began. Their teams have won 93 state titles and 39 national championships, and they had three draft picks this year.
"It feels great to have good kids around you. And good kids attract better kids," said DeLeon. "That's one thing we stress, to be humble. Our kids develop into some of the best players in Houston."