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Tournaments  | Story  | 7/21/2015

The boys from the Bronx

Chris Garcia     
Photo: Perfect Game

EMERSON, Ga. – In the midst of all the familiar successful programs that run through these Perfect Game events, there are many up-and-coming programs who go unnoticed regardless of how well they’re playing. There are a few teams at this year’s 15u WWBA National Championship that have been absolutely dominant through pool play, but aren’t getting the recognition that they deserve.

It’s easy to root for teams like that; the ones that play hard for the love and competitive aspect of the game, but receive no glory. It’s especially easy when it is a team that is built on good values, not just sound baseball fundamentals. That is what we have here with the Bronx Bombers from the heart of New York state.

The Bombers have run rampant this week, and are a perfect 6-0 through pool play after Tuesday's 9-3 win over the Indiana Outlaws. They lead their pool in runs scored, and have certainly lived up to their name of the “Bombers,” as they are batting .403 as a team with a .603 slugging percentage. Head Coach Chuck Gutierrez recognizes that a big part of their success has to do with their ridiculous offensive production.

Obviously we have put some runs on the board, and that always helps,” Coach Gutierrez said. “Our offense has been carrying us, and our pitching has struggled at times with throwing strikes, but our offense has been great. Good defense is big for us too. Our whole mindset is to take it game by game and let the chips fall where they may. Our boys have really stepped up this week.”

As good as this team has been this week the program is pretty much unknown for the most part. Seeing how well this tournament has gone for them, they won’t be unknown for long; especially if they end up winning the whole thing. The founder of this program, Eric Semler, feels that winning a WWBA National Championship would be a tremendous boost for the Bronx Bombers organization.

Winning this tournament would be like winning the Presidential election. I think it would be amazing,” said Semler. “I don’t know if there is a bigger goal than winning a tournament like this. There is so much competition, and so many teams. Being from the Northeast and not really getting the recognition that we deserve for all the talent we have, it’s really big for us to come down here and make a name for ourselves. It would be incredibly gratifying to accomplish something like that at this kind of tournament.”

There are not many other programs that are more deserving of the spotlight then this team. Not just because of how well they are performing on the field, but also because of what they do for the kids in their program and community off the field. The main goal of this program is to put their kids in a four year college that will ensure a great education, but to do that, the process for actually getting to these schools is rigorous.

Among the number of things that college baseball coaches look at when recruiting a player is their GPA and SAT score, and sometimes it can make or break whether a guy gets an offer or not. Semler and the coaches at Bronx Baseball know that talent alone will not accomplish the overall goal of receiving a baseball scholarship to a good academic institution, so they have taken it upon themselves to provide an outlet for these players to prepare themselves adequately for the SAT and other standardized tests.

In a mainly urban area it is hard to find any resources for studying for these kinds of tests, so this program stepping in has an infinite impact on these kids’ academic progress.

Our team is mainly Latino. Most, but not all of our players are of Dominican descent,” Semler said. “We support a mainly urban, underserved Bronx population of gifted athletes and our goal is to help them to use baseball as a means to gain a college scholarship. We are trying to help our players to become, in many cases, the first in their families to attend college.

We discovered that being a phenomenal ballplayer isn’t enough to get you into college. Some of our top players were failing to get baseball scholarships at the schools of their choice because of their low SAT scores. These are smart, hardworking and goal-oriented kids, but they have been poorly prepared by their schools; so we started offering free SAT tutoring, as well as writing tutoring to any of our high school payers who want it. This is something we are very proud of, and we plan to expand into subject tutoring.”

The importance placed on academics is definitely admirable, and as they continue to expand their program, the Bronx Bombers are setting a great example of how education and baseball go hand in hand,” Semler continued. “What is amazing is that not only are the players of the Bronx Bombers driven to pursue academic excellence, but they also have a strong urgency to help others around their community.

This year our players are helping others in the NYC community. We have partnered with several different nonprofit organizations that help underserved kids in New York City, and we are giving them free baseball clinics and general fitness training. We are so proud of our players and coaches who are volunteering their time to help other NYC youth.”

Off the field, these kids are role models, but once it is time to compete between the lines, these players put their game faces on. They are not a loud team that likes to get in the head of the opponent, nor do they carry a tremendous sense of energy like other successful teams; they are a team that plays calm and collected, always keeping their emotions in check and always picking each other up. The Bombers are as humble as it gets, and their quiet confidence seems to be really working for them.

This is a team with continuity, longevity, chemistry and brotherhood.

Almost every player in the lineup for the Bombers is getting the job done, but there are a few standouts; second baseman Zach Semler, Eric Semler's son, is hitting .444, and first baseman Xavier Vargas is hitting .471. What’s even more impressive is that their best performer this week, third baseman Jason Pineda, is hitting about 200 points better than those two. Pineda has been on a legendary tear this week, and is hitting .667 with one home run, 10 RBI and 11 runs scored.

Accounting for more than a third of the Bombers offense, Pineda has garnered a lot of attention this week and doesn’t seem to have any thoughts of letting up on opposing pitchers. On Tuesday he picked up a few more RBI with a double and a triple in his first two at-bats. Pineda is thrilled to be having the tournament he is having, and credits his team for having his back.

Key factor in my success this tournament is having my team right behind me,” Pineda said. “They have had my back the entire tournament. My approach at the plate all week has been get behind the baseball and put it in play, because anything can happen in baseball. As we exit pool play, we’re going to have the same mentality; work hard, put the ball in play, and have your teammate’s back.”

Pineda’s biggest supporter, his mother Valenci, has been there to watch him develop into the great player that he is every step of the way. She has done a fine job of raising Jason to be a nice, respectable young man, and is having the time of her life watching her son perform so well on such a huge stage.

I’m so happy to see him play like this,” Valenci Pineda said of her son. “He always wants to play baseball all the time and he loves this game. This is wonderful, and it’s not only because he’s my kid, but because he is playing so hard. I’ve always tried to teach him to be a good person and get along with people.

I’m from the Dominican Republic, and my mother always said that (I) have to be the best person that I can be in life, and that is what I’m teaching him too. Jason wants to play in the major leagues, but I tell him to put education first, because he could get hurt and this could all go away. He has done a good job of that so far.”

Pineda and his teammates have done an outstanding job so far, but there is still much work to do. At this point in the tournament, it starts to become a real grind, and these players know that their job here at the LakePoint complex is not finished until they are able to hoist the championship trophy.

It’s all about refueling for the next day after a hard fought win, and the Bombers have taken a liking to a local Dominican restaurant named Punta Cana. They have been eating there almost every night, and with how fantastic they have been playing this week, they feel that Punta Cana is their good luck charm.

After their victory on Tuesday afternoon they deserve to feast on some rice and beans, Dominican style.