The regular season is over. The league playoffs are over. That means it’s time for TOCs (Tournament of Champions) and All Stars for the local Little Leagues here in Santa Clara and Sunnyvale.
The Westside 12U All Star players got in their first practice together on Monday, sans four players still practicing with the A’s. The Westside Major A’s won the league championship and begin TOCs this week. Even without four of their members, the All Stars looked just like that at practice, All Stars.
The kids were rotating all over the field, with multiple players rotating into both infield and outfield positions. This year’s Westside team features a number of returners from last year’s 12U team and a handful of new players who were part of the 11U team a year ago that won its District 44 tournament and went on to play in sectionals.
Manager Vinny Santiago knows that he has a squad with tremendous potential, but the energetic 25-year-old also knows that expectations don’t easily turn into reality.
“When we were 10, we won Northern California, so the expectation as 12-year-olds was to go out and do the same thing and we didn’t even make it out of district,” recalled Santiago on his own playing experience at Westside. “It was really a humbling experience.”
So how does Santiago manage expectations for his current group of kids?
“I tried to phrase it as that they have the right to expectations, but it shouldn’t feel like pressure, it’s an opportunity,” noted Santiago. “They have an opportunity to do something special. It doesn’t guarantee anything. And they could do all the right things and it still doesn’t work out. I just encourage them to put themselves in a position to succeed and if it doesn’t work out, be able to leave saying you put everything into it.”
Despite being in just his mid-20s, Santiago has been coaching at Westside for five years. That experience has quickly landed him the opportunity to skipper the 12U All Stars. Santiago received the most votes amongst Westside’s board members to earn the position.
“He’s very impressive,” chimed Westside President Melinda Lutz. “The kids take to him so well.”
“It’s fun having a young coach; he’s very energetic,” remarked Noa Tesimale. “I think our coaching staff is really good.”
Tesimale showed off his own versatility at practice, bouncing around between infield and outfield spots. It’s probable, though, that he will form a double play pairing at second base with teammate Alec Howell at shortstop.
“I feel pretty good about our chances; I think we just need to mesh together right now,” chimed Howell. “A lot of us haven’t played together since last year, but once we reach there, I think we are going to play really well and have a good shot at winning district.”
“I think our pitching will be pretty good, and the defense too,” responded Josh Capps when asked about the strengths of the team. “I think we will be pretty balanced.”
All Star games will start next week after the TOCs finish up this weekend.