Volume 20 Issue 14 | August 17 - 23, 2007

Gauchos garner national attention

By Lucas Mann and Lincoln Anderson

The youth baseball organization the Lower East Side Gauchos took another giant step forward in their development into a powerhouse program. After a summer that has already included the highlights of an impressive season in the ultra-competitive Parade Ground League — where they were the youngest team — and the selection of star pitcher Jonathan Gonzalez in the Major League Baseball draft, the team of 17-year-old-and-under players capped it off by earning their way into the Don Mattingly Division of the American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series, held in Flemington, N.J. this year.

“This is the first time we’ve had any of our teams make it,” said David McWater, founder of the Gauchos, speaking by cell phone from the stands right after the tournament’s first pitch was thrown out. “It’s a huge honor,” he said. “This is a tournament for teams from all over the country. I think we’re the only team close enough to travel there by car. There are teams from California, Puerto Rico, all over.”

Facing off against the nation’s top teen talent, the Gauchos’ expectations were high. In their first game, they put up a good fight against the Trombley Braves from Brea, Cal. Gonzalez was on the mound and fanned seven, twice striking out the side, and walking just one. But a few base-running errors hurt the Gauchos, who ended up losing a fairly close game, 5-2.

“We could have won that game,” said McWater last week.

The Trombley Braves went on to blow out a couple of other teams, scoring 18 and 13 runs, so McWater said it was a credit to the Gauchos that they had kept their game close.

The Lower East Side squad then beat the Rio Grande Ravens from New Mexico, 5-4, coming back from being down two runs in the final frame. But they then lost to the New Jersey Terminators, 10-4, meaning they were out of the double-elimination tournament. They finished seventh out of the 10 teams.

But McWater said it was a validation just to have been picked for the tournament and then for the team to have played well.

“We proved we belong,” he said.

The Gauchos were the only New York team that made the tournament and they did so without heavy recruiting from outside of the Lower East Side. Coach of the 17-and-under team and former minor leaguer Al Ortiz thought his players had a chance to do well going into the tournament.

“We’re blessed with a very talented team, with a great attitude,” Ortiz said. “It’s a strong team defensively, and offensively it’s even stronger. And we are a very good fundamental team. Chance-wise, I think we have a good one. We’ve been playing against college-level talent already in the 18-year-old division of the Parade Ground League and we’ve done well.”

McWater added that the Gaucho 17-year-olds feature top starting players from local high school teams like Cardinal Hayes and Xaverian. Pro scouts from the Brewers, Astros and Phillies were in Flemington, as well as scouts from area colleges, including Seton Hall, Rutgers, Manhattan and even Navy, McWater noted.

“Our 17-year-olds can beat any high school team in the city,” McWater boasted.

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