Young Champagnat Lions Building A Winner
After watching his team endure the growing pains in his first season at the helm, Champagnat Manager Enrique Avila expects to see major strides from his team this season.
Avila feels he has the team on track now. He let it be known that he was the new sheriff in town during his first year as manager, after previously serving as an assistant at Champagnat in the 90’s.
The Lions struggled with youth and discipline issues as they ended with a 3-14-1 record last season. Avila sent a message to his team by suspending four players near the end of the season for violating team rules. As the 2014 season approaches that move still resonates as he tries to build a winning atmosphere at a program that has struggled the past few years.
“It sent them a loud message,” Avila said of the suspensions. “They’re not acting up; they’re doing what they’re asked. They pay attention to the game and they pay attention in practices.”
Champagnat returns a solid core of talented, young players that are still learning how to play the game of baseball.
“We’re a little bit stronger this year. Last year was a lot of growing pains being that they were young and being that it was our first year we were really tough on them,” said Avila. “We have a couple guys that had a bad ending last year but are going to be good assets to the team this year.”
One of those assets is senior Nosomy Diaz. The speedy outfielder ended last season in the doghouse but has emerged as one of the team captains this season. Diaz credits the coaching staff for straightening him out.
“They’re like my father figures,” Diaz said. “They have helped me become a better ball player and a better person outside of baseball.”
With his speed Diaz will hit near the top of the batting order and become a nightmare for opposing pitchers on the base paths.
Avila also mentioned junior Craig Campbell as one of his impact players. The lanky lefty transferred from North Miami Beach this offseason and will split time between first base, outfield, and on the mound this spring. Campbell has worked on improving his approach at the plate and increasing the velocity on his fastball this offseason.
“This team is really young but we don’t play young. So I think we have a really good team and we’re going to make a stamp this year and try to be like the football team,” Campbell said. “It’s going take hard work because we have a young team, we have good players but we just need to take it one game at a time.”
Sophomore pitcher/outfielder Alexander Martinez and senior infielder Anthony De Jesus figure to play key roles for the Lions. The team will also add more depth to the roster when some players finish up with football and basketball season. Champagnat captured its first state championship on the football field and the baseball team is hoping to capture some of that good luck.
“Both our football and basketball team have the experience of going to states, so now we’re trying to get the baseball program going and make it triple trouble,” said Avila.
Before the season begins however, the Lions are in search of a new home field. Construction at their usual field in Milander Park left the Lions out searching for a place to play their home games. The team is currently practicing at Babcock Park in Hialeah, but the field’s dimensions are too small to host varsity baseball games.
“For our home games we still don’t have anything set up,” Avila explained. “The city of Hialeah is still trying to get us a field, but being that there are so many schools that use the fields we’re kind of in a bind.”
If the city can’t set up an arrangement the Lions will likely attempt to schedule their home games at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. Campbell expects his team to be ready no matter where they take the field.
“The way we are and how we play it doesn’t matter what field we play on because we work hard,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re on a nasty field, the best field or the worst field, I think we can still come out with a win.”
Champagnat will need to up their game as they compete in a new district this season. The Lions moved up to District 2A-15 to compete against Miami Christian and small school powerhouse Miami Brito. Even with the better competition the team is looking forward to the challenge.
“We obviously have tougher teams in our district this year but we’ll see how we can overcome that,” Avila said.
Diaz believes his team has what it takes to win those big games.
“Those schools are pretty strong but there is a lot of heart here and that’s what matters,” Diaz said.