Bats are Hot in Orange & Green World Series

by David Villavicencio

CORAL GABLES, Fla. –The Dodgers may have won the Fall Classic, but the Orange team came away with a big win in Miami’s annual Orange and Green World Series.

Captained by veterans Alex Toral and Spencer Bodanza, the Orange squad defeated the Green team, 22-17, after 28 innings of action in the four-day running score format.

The two sides battled each other and the weather, as the Orange and Green World Series schedule changed multiple times due to inclement weather because of Tropical Storm Eta. Originally slated for Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of last week, the series was spread out over a full week as South Florida dealt with heavy rain all weekend.

“Nothing has gone as planned this fall. It’s just amazing,” head coach Gino DiMare said. “I’ve never seen weather like this before. It started this earlier year. We opened up the season and we had to play a doubleheader against Rutgers. We played in the pouring rain against South Florida and it rained all weekend against Florida. Thankfully, we have the indoor facility now. I told the guys the other day that in the years past, I don’t know what we would have done this fall. Thank God for the indoor. It has been our saving grace so we could get things done this fall.”

Things got off to a good start last Wednesday for the Orange team, as they got a solo homer from Gabe Rivera and two-out RBI hits from freshmen Carlos Perez and Chad Born. Bodanza, who was named the Orange & Green World Series Pitching MVP, tossed five scoreless innings and struck out four to help his team end day 1 with a 3-2 lead.

The Green team charged back a day later, scoring five runs to take a 7-6 lead after 14 innings. Newcomer Andrew Walters was strong on the mound for Green, allowing just one hit over 2.1 scoreless innings. True freshman Jacoby Long, who has been impressive in his debut fall, had a sacrifice fly and made two spectacular catches in center field for a Green team that also got extra-base hits from captain Adrian Del Castillo and true freshman Giuseppe Ferraro. JP Gates added a pair of hits and an RBI to round out the top performers for the Green team

“Jacoby Long has just been exciting and the players keep talking about him,” DiMare said. “He’s made some really exciting plays in the outfield and he runs really well and seems to square up a lot of balls. We’ve hit a few home runs, we’ve probably hit a few more home runs this fall than we have in the past. [Anthony] Vilar has played well and Christian Del Castillo has probably played as well as anybody in the entire fall.”

Freshman outfielder Jacoby Long has been one of the most exciting newcomers this fall.

The bats got red-hot last Friday, as the two sides combined to score 16 runs over seven innings. Mykanthony Valdez was the top hitter for the Orange team, posting three hits including a home run and four RBI. Rivera hit another homer, his second of the World Series and third of the fall, while graduate transfer Ben Wanger excelled on the mound over two shutout innings. Lefty Carson Palmquist was a bright spot for the Green team, striking out eight batters and allowing just one hit over four innings, but the Orange team ended the day ahead, 18-11.

“Wanger threw a couple innings the other day and it was good; they were 1-2-3 innings, quick innings, that weren’t very stressful for him. Palmquist looked really good when he threw,” DiMare said.

Tropical Storm Eta forced the Canes to push the final day of the World Series to Wednesday. The Green team made a good run at the Orange lead, outscoring them, 6-4, on the final day.

Adrian Del Castillo had three hits, while Gates added his third homer of the fall to lead the Green offense, while Christan Del Castillo had a pair of diving catches in right field for the Green team. But Adam Frank’s three hits paced an Orange offense that finished off their World Series victory, 22-17. Born, who hit a team-best .455 with five RBI in the World Series, was named the Hitting MVP.

“I feel like I have a way better approach at the plate now than I did in high school. [Assistant coach Norberto Lopez] really helped me out, especially with the mental side of hitting,” Born said. “He really helped me to look for balls I can drive and getting into good counts and when I do, take advantage of those good counts and really drive the ball instead of just trying to put it in play. I feel like that really helped my approach.”

True freshman Chad Born was named the Hitting MVP of the Orange & Green World Series after an excellent showing at the plate.

Returners like Adrian Del Castillo, Gates, Rivera and Vilar have excelled at the plate, while newcomers like Born, Long, Frank and Ferraro made noise on offense in their first Orange and Green World Series. While Lopez, the Hurricanes’ hitting coach, is happy with what the bats have done this fall, he knows there is still more work to be done if Miami wants to be one of the best offensive clubs in the country.

“The hitters have done a good job this fall, but we need to continue to work,” Lopez said. “As much as the offense has looked good, we’re not going to think we have things figured out. Last fall, we fell into that quicksand of falling in love with our offense too much. And then when the spring came, we weren’t producing how we should produce in the beginning of the season last year. That’s something that we went into this fall knowing that it was our fault that we let our guard down last year by going into the season and taking things for granted, thinking that our offense was always going to show up. That’s a mindset that we’ve all been emphasizing.

“A lot of the returners, all they talk about is how we’re not going into the season lightly,” Lopez added. “We don’t want to talk about how well were doing offensively. We want to just keep on working and hopefully get a little bit better every day. If we get a little bit better every day, hopefully we’re in Omaha showing that we’re a good offensive club.”

Bodanza, Palmquist, Walters and Wanger were some of the top performers on the mound during the World Series, but several other Hurricanes have impressed pitching coach J.D. Arteaga this fall.

“Jake Garland made big strides from last year as far as returning guys,” Arteaga said. “Then you’ve got those new guys that you expected to get the great things out of like Alejandro Rosario and Victor Mederos and Jake Smith. I think Nick Regalado has had a really nice fall so far. Just improvement from the first bullpen to the last outing and he seems to get a little better every time out. I’m loving his competitiveness and just his mound presence when he’s been out there. He’s been really impressive so far.”

DiMare, who coaches the outfielders in addition to his head coaching duties, believes the quality depth in that position group has brought about a level of competition that has elevated every players’ game. Christian Del Castillo, known as “Delly” by his teammates and coaches, has been one of the top players this fall regardless of position.

“To me, the outfield competition has been the biggest one out there. It has been a very, very competitive fall with a lot of players doing well,” DiMare said. “Delly arguably could be the MVP of our fall. He’s been great in the outfield in both left and right field. I just recall him making so many plays going back and diving on the track, diving into walls, whether it’s the outfield wall or the foul territory by the bullpen. He’s throwing guys out from the outfield, he’s hit home runs, he’s hitting the ball as well as anybody in the in the fall. We’ve been very fortunate. Thank goodness his brother is on our team [and he wanted to join him]. We’re very, very excited, and feel fortunate to have him as part of the program.”

Miami’s fall roster features 38 players and they have shown what they can do for the team this fall. With the largest and deepest Miami roster in recent history, DiMare believes that will be an asset this coming season.

“I hate saying it but maybe now during these crazy times with COVID, having that depth is going to be probably more important than ever,” DiMare said. “I’d like to think that everything goes smoothly and you won’t have any issues and no one tests positive and no contact tracing happens and you always have your guys available to play, but that might not be the case once the season starts. You could have some guys that fall into those categories and you’re going to need depth. We have plenty of depth with the amount of players that we have and it’s good for everybody; it’s good for the program and it’s good for the players.”

"They've all been great and just a lot of fun to coach because they're just quiet, they listen, they're coachable and they're good players."

Head coach Gino DiMare on the newcomers

One of the biggest challenges DiMare and the rest of Miami’s coaching staff will face is deciding on a lineup. With so many players proving they can be contributors and only nine spots available to play, they will have some tough decisions to make. But DiMare believes that is a good problem to have.

“Obviously, the true test is going to come when the season starts and you put a lineup out there,” DiMare said. Some guys are going to expect to be playing that might not be playing and that’s part of it. A big part of my job this year will be handling that and the players understanding that we’re going to try to put the best players out there to give us a chance to win. I have a feeling you’re going to see quite a few players playing this year because we have so many talented guys that can play, especially in the outfield, but other positions, too.”

Fall ball is the first opportunity for players to showcase themselves and try to earn a role for the upcoming season. Once Miami returns for the spring semester, the team will have a few weeks of scrimmages ahead of the season and that is when lineups and roles will be finalized, but that is something that the players can control with their performance.

“The players do make out the lineup. I’m writing it in, but I’m putting in the guys that have performed the best,” DiMare said. “We’re not doing anything different than any other program in any other sport, you’re playing the guys that are playing the best at that time. I don’t recall ever having a lineup where you started on day one and it’s exactly the same the last day of the season. Things happen where guys go into slumps, guys get hurt, whatever it may be, and you have to be prepared. Again, it’s another reason why I’m very excited about the team because we have the ability to do that, we have the depth.”

The constant competition all fall has led DiMare and his coaches to remind all the players that every spot is earned at Miami.

“I’ve had plenty of talks with some players about how everyone has to continue to prove themselves,” DiMare said. “Just because you started in a certain position and you hit a certain spot in the lineup the last year or two years, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be given to you. You still have to earn that. And that’s another thing I think is different about this team. This is very similar to the years back when I played and when J.D. played, and you had a number of guys that were on that team that could play at any time. Back then, you were always looking over your shoulder making sure like, ‘Hey, I better bust my bust my butt because I could lose my position.’”

With Miami bringing back nearly its entire starting lineup from a year ago, as well as several talented pitchers, one might assume that most of the roles have been established and determined. But the newcomers have made a strong first impression and will continue to challenge for playing time.

“This incoming class, I can go on and on about the different guys, but they’ve all been great and just a lot of fun to coach because they’re just quiet, they listen, they’re coachable and they’re good players,” DiMare said. “All those things help, but it’s just been a lot of fun to coach those guys.”

With just a few days remaining this fall, which will conclude with Scout Day this Saturday, DiMare is looking to see him team finish strong ahead of individual meetings next week. That is where he will tell players where they stand and what they need to work on ahead of the spring season. But a constant message in those meetings will be to work hard and come back ready to play because that is when players can secure their role for the start of the season.

“I’m not making up the lineup by any means now, that’ll happen when they come back in January,” DiMare said. “How they work out during this break after fall practice ends is going to be huge, because a lot of guys missed out on that over the summer and at the beginning of the fall. I want to see the players develop over these few months before we come back in January, not only physically, but also on the field. Hopefully, we will get the three weeks in of playing and practicing when we come back and make our decisions before the season starts.”