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Baseball: Rebels with a cause: Teams travel from across the state for AAYBA World Series
FLOWER MOUND -- During the past two weeks, more than 508 youth baseball teams from Texas and surrounding states made the trek to Flower Mound to compete in the AAYBA World Series -- which has featured Flower Mound as one of its three locations since 2007.
But perhaps no team has had quite the journey as the 8U Rio Rebels.
Coming from Rio Grande City -- a low socio-economic city near the border of Mexico -- the Rebels underwent many months of fundraising to secure the finances to make the trip to the World Series for a second consecutive year.
What has followed is a whirlwind week that has included improved results on the field, as well as an appearance on Fox Sports Chevy Kids and a first pitch at a Texas Rangers game.
"It's been an awesome experience," said Ana Liza Garcia, Rio head coach. "We're from a little small town near Mexico and some of these kids have never even left the city. But they just love to play baseball and this has been a great experience for them."
Last year, the Rebels made the 10-hour drive to compete in the 7U division, where the Rebels finished second in the gold bracket. But it was the camaraderie amongst the competing teams that drew Rio back for a second year.
"It's the way they treat the players and the fans," Garcia said. "We love coming out the opening Saturday when all of the teams are out there. The socialization between the teams and the different kids is incredible. We are from primarily a Hispanic community, so to have the chance to interact with kids from all over Texas, they really enjoy it.
"And they get to play a bunch of games against teams from different areas. The kids tell me all of the time 'Coach, I feel like I am a real baseball player.'"
To make the trip happen, Garcia said she set up a non-profit account at the bank.
"We would have a fundraiser every three weeks," she said, "and we did a bunch of other things to raise money. We would sell roasted corn on the side of the road, have raffles, play Chalupa bingo and have carwashes. We did everything we could and our school district even sponsored a baseball tournament to help raise funds."
Seeking to raise $1,800 per family to cover all expenses during the trip, the Rebels exceed their goal, generating $2,000 for each family.
"We even had a little extra money for entertainment and took the kids to the Hawaiian Falls Waterpark," Garcia said.
The Rebels' voyage opened with a trip to a Rangers game last Friday, where Dante De La Rosa -- who had never previously ventured outside the confines of Rio Grande City -- threw out the opening pitch.
"He was so excited," Garcia said. "He said he was never going to wash his hand off."
On the field, the Rebels have found success, qualifying for the Diamond bracket -- an improvement over last season. Garcia said the team hopes to make the trip to the World Series an annual event.
"That's our goal," she said. "The kids have had such a great time and when we get back, we will regroup and try again so that more kids have the opportunity to experience the tournament."
While Rio made a lengthy trip, a large portion of the tournament consists of Metroplex teams, including the 10U Texas Rattlers, which are based out of Flower Mound.
"This team has been together for the most part for three years," said head coach Gary Wells. "And the Rattlers as a whole have several teams in every age group. I started coming to the tournament with my 14-year-old son and have coached a team every year since 2007."
"The great thing about this tournament is way it's set up," added Scott White, AAYBA Tournament Director. "Where in most tournaments, you play your pool games and then you go to one big single-elimination bracket. Here you have your pool games and then you have a crossover game. From there, every team is seeded into a bracket with a similar caliber of competition and the tournament continues. You get to play one game a day for seven days and you see teams from different areas and get to play teams of all different levels until you reach your bracket."
In addition to the competition, it's the organization of the tournament which keeps teams returning.
"We play as many games here in these two weeks as the Texas Rangers will have home games in 20 years," said Tracy Black, Tournament Director for the Flower Mound Youth Sports Association. "And to do that, you have to have a great amount of help and good relationships."
To accommodate the size of the tournament, seven locations are used throughout Flower Mound, Lewisville and Highland Village.
The tournament also leans on its local volunteers, which include shifts of 50 people and has a roster of more than 130 volunteers. Tasks include working the gate and raking and watering the fields.
"It's what makes this event so special," Wells added. "So many times you got a tournament and by the time it ends, the park is in rough condition. Here, everyday you come out and play it is like the tournament just started. The fields are in great shape and everyone is very welcoming."
Also critical to the success is the alteration of the schedules to the employees who work at the parks.
"My guys do an incredible job," said Chase Houston, Flower Mound Athletics field supervisor. "They totally change their schedule around. They usually work during the day, but during these two weeks, they are here from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. getting the fields ready to be in the same playing shape they were the day before. They water the fields, pack the dirt and clean up the stands and parks. They do it all."
The World Series concluded Saturday, but both the AAYBA and city of Flower Mound hope to continue the relationship.
"We don't plan on moving it anywhere else," said Mark Long, Flower Mound athletic supervisor. "We've had a great partnership between the FMYSA and AAYBA and hopefully it continues."