Winter Garden Little League kicks off spring season

Warm weather welcomes young baseball and softball players to the WGLL fields.

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  • | 12:49 p.m. March 6, 2019
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After a day of drenching rain, the clouds over Winter Garden Little League’s fields part and give way to nightfall.

Under the lights, kids sporting their team colors flash across the clay and grass under their feet.

Sounds of metal bats making contact with leather baseballs reverberate into the stands, and each time, the sound is met with cheers from those watching.

It’s Wednesday, Feb. 27, and it’s the first week of baseball for West Orange Little League.

“I’m so glad it’s already here — we’re ready to start playing some ball,” said Luis Gomez, coach of the White Sox (Majors division). “I’m hyped for some baseball, and the kids are hyped, and that’s why we come out here — for the kids to get some baseball time.”

That night Gomez saw his White Sox, which includes kids ages 11 and 12, tie Alex Piazza’s Nationals side 0-0 in a pitching duel.

Like a lot of Little League teams in the country, baseball is a family affair for Gomez, who coaches his 12-year-old son, Keston. Keston has played the game since he was about 6 years old and plays a bit at third base, pitcher and catcher.

“I can play about everything except for second, because I’m really bad at second,” Keston said with a laugh. “I usually like (to play) catcher and third. I don’t really pitch as much, it’s too much stress.”

Just as the Gomez family has made baseball a family tradition, so has Piazza and his sons — all three of whom play in Winter Garden Little League. In fact, it was his sons that got him started into coaching at the Little League level, Piazza said.

“We pretty much live here six days a week,” Piazza said. “I’m here all the time, anyway, so might as well coach.”

One of Piazza’s sons, Alexander, 10, is a second baseman for the Nationals (Major) team and already is looking ahead to the possible successes of the team and himself.

“I think we have a good team,” said Alexander, who’s been playing baseball since he was 3 years old. “(I’m looking forward to) trying to make All-Stars.”

As a coach and a father, guys such as Gomez and Piazza get to use the game of baseball to team lessons that pertain to both on the field and off the field.

With both having multiple years of experience, the teaching aspect is the best part.

“I’m looking forward to the development of all these boys in the spring — a lot of good players come out and try to make All-Stars at the end of the season and there’s a lot of good competition,” Piazza said. “Right now, it’s a big developmental time of their lives. … We have one kid who has never played baseball and is doing great.”

Just across the concourse 10- and 11-year-olds joyously run about the fields as the Giants take on the Mets in Triple-A action.

“I’m so glad it’s already here — we’re ready to start playing some ball. I’m hyped for some baseball, and the kids are hyped, and that’s why we come out here — for the kids to get some baseball time.”

— Luis Gomez, coach of the White Sox (Majors division)

These young athletes are the next in line to participate in Majors play, but right now, they’re learning their ball from coaches such as the Mets’ Brett Rowland, who has been coaching at Winter Garden Little League for three-and-one-half years.

Rowland got started with the league when he and his family moved to the area. Like Gomez and Piazza, he decided to jump into coaching thanks to his children wanting to participate.

“It’s a 20-game season — it’s a long season — and the kids usually take four to five games before they start gelling and really working together, but you can see improvement every practice and every game,” Rowland said. “It sounds cliché, but they do get much better each game. They learn how to work together and play together.”

Although winning seasons are always nice, Rowland said, as both a coach and a dad, it’s seeing the growth in kids that really inspires him to keep coaching.

“I’ve coached 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 6-year-olds and other age groups,” Rowland said. “(I want) them to not take it so seriously and just to get better and better developed. If they want to be a pitcher, I’ll let them pitch. Really, when I see a kid get his first hit or first strikeout, that honestly is a great reward.”


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