The Winter Garden Junior Squeeze, an 11-and-under travel baseball team affiliated with the Florida Collegiate Summer League team of the same name, played its first games earlier this month.
WINTER GARDEN If you thought you would have to wait until next summer to see the Winter Garden Squeeze on the baseball diamond, think again.
Of course, the version of the Squeeze that took the field Aug. 19 at Foundation Academy for a one-day travel ball tournament featured a roster of players that were just a tad smaller than what folks are used to.
The Winter Garden Junior Squeeze is a new 11-and-under travel ball team that is affiliated with the Winter Garden Squeeze of the Florida Collegiate Summer League. The team itself is the brainchild of David Ocasio.
“We decided to partner with the Winter Garden Squeeze because of their name cache and the fact that they’re in the collegiate summer league,” Ocasio said. “All of the kids have been to a Squeeze game. … We sat down with (Squeeze general manager) Adam (Bates), and he said ‘Hey, how about just becoming the Winter Garden Junior Squeeze?’
“We said that would be fantastic — a junior team that’s affiliated with a college summer team.”
For Bates, who has a son who plays on the team and who has been the general manager for the Squeeze since its inception in 2014, the opportunity for a partnership such as this within the community is just good business.
“We (the Squeeze) need to build a brand — we’re trying to be a year-round product and partner with the community,” Bates said.
For Ocasio, the Junior Squeeze is also about finding a niche within the growing glut of travel-ball teams.
Although the team is not affiliated with Winter Garden Little League, many of the team’s 16 players know each other through the league and have grown up playing together. Ocasio’s hope is to provide an opportunity for those kids to continue to play with one another and to find a middle ground between the constant grind of what competitive travel ball has become and the absence of it, altogether.
“I wanted to start an alternative to full-on travel ball,” Ocasio said. “I would go and observe, and I noticed that it takes a big toll on parents, siblings and the kids themselves. I just think that’s too much for kids that age.”
The niche the Junior Squeeze is hoping to carve is one in which it plays fewer tournaments than an average travel ball team, with an emphasis on tournaments that are close to home — though one of Ocasio’s bigger projects for the team is an out-of-state trip for 2018.
Because of how the Junior Squeeze is structured, costs to the families are lower, and for those families who choose, their boys are free to play on another travel team if they desire to play more often.
The Junior Squeeze’s first games came Aug. 19 at the event at Foundation Academy’s South Campus on Tilden Road. Organized by Ocasio, the event was a one-day showcase, with the Junior Squeeze, the Elite City Grays, the GRIT and Future of Baseball.
The Junior Squeeze went 2-1 that day, playing each team once, and Ocasio said the event was well-received by coaches from the other teams present.
“All of the teams and coaches involved were local,” Ocasio said. “The teams seemed to love it, and they all responded saying, ‘We should have more of these where it’s one day and you’re in and out.’”
While Ocasio and the team’s other coaches — Adrean Acevedo, Bob Cortese and Luis Gomez — are focused on making sure the one team is a success for now, given the team’s size at 16 players, a second team could be a possibility.
Families of players who are interested in getting involved and buying in to the Junior Squeeze’s concept of travel ball are encouraged to contact Ocasio, either by phone at (516) 637-7223 or by email at [email protected].
As for the original Squeeze, it will be returning for the franchise’s fifth season in Winter Garden next summer. And, the way Bates sees it, maybe when they’re gearing up for a season down the road, a member of this current Junior Squeeze team eventually could play for the big club.
“Hopefully in 10 or 11 years, they’re also playing for us,” Bates said. “It would be really neat if one or two of these kids ends up playing for their hometown team.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].