ERIC SONDHEIMER ON HIGH SCHOOLS
Southland Silver Medalists Grow From Cuba Experience
Eric Sondheimer ON HIGH SCHOOLS
October 1, 2006
Five teenagers from Southern California returned this weekend after
spending 12 days in Cuba trying to help the U.S. junior national
baseball team win a gold medal. They had to settle for silver, but
their experience and memories will likely last a lifetime.
"It taught me about life and how we need to be thankful," Anaheim
Canyon second baseman Christian Colon said.
U.S. citizens are banned from traveling to Cuba on their own, but the
World Junior Championships were held for two weeks in the Communist
country, and the U.S. players started off complaining about the food,
their living conditions and just about everything else after dropping
their first two games of the tournament.
Then they had a players' only meeting.
"We need to stop complaining about the things going on here," Colon
said at the meeting. "They're not going to change. This is Cuba."
The U.S. team went on a six-game winning streak, with four Southern
California high school standouts in the starting lineup: Colon, third
baseman Matt Dominguez and outfielder Mike Moustakas, both of
Chatsworth, and outfielder Victor Sanchez of Cerritos Gahr. A fifth
player, outfielder Freddie Freeman of Orange El Modena, also
Dominguez twice hit three-run home runs on 3-and-2 counts, once in
the semifinals against Mexico and again in the quarterfinals, a
memorable 4-0 victory over Cuba.
Dominguez has hit home runs at Dodger Stadium in the City
Championship games each of the last two years, but he said the home
run against Cuba "was probably the highlight of my baseball career.
That beats Dodger Stadium by a lot."
Dominguez's home run took on special significance coming against the
home team because his father, Fernando, a copy editor in The Times'
sports department, was born in Cuba, as were Matt's grandparents,
uncle and aunt. He played two games in the city of MorÃ³n, where his
father grew up, and a cousin came to a game and introduced himself.
"They figured out I was half Cuban," Dominguez said.
The trip started out badly for Dominguez, who lost a bag on the
flight from Miami to Havana. For three days, he had only the clothes
he was wearing, and an iPod, wallet and mitt that he was carrying.
But like everyone else on the trip, he had to adjust and make the
best of the situation.
Moustakas, the City Section player of the year as a junior, switched
from shortstop to left field for the tournament and came up with the
most dramatic defensive play, taking away a home run from a Cuban
player with a leaping catch.
"It was the craziest thing," Moustakas said. "It went over the fence,
I caught it and brought it back."
Said Colon: "The California dudes stepped it up big time."
The U.S. team lost to Korea, 4-3, in the championship game on
Wednesday, then left for home.
Colon was selected the top second baseman in the tournament. He said
he lost seven pounds after eating mostly rice and ham sandwiches. On
his first day back, he dined on pizza, hamburgers and "good" ice
Dominguez, who like Colon has committed to Cal State Fullerton, said
representing the United States produced a special feeling.
"Just to wear the USA uniform on your chest and play against Cuba and
5,000 or 6,000 people are rooting against usâ¦. It was one of the
greatest experiences I ever had," he said.
Added Moustakas: "It was the most amazing thing I'll probably do in
my life. To play for my country is the biggest honor."