The CNMI U18 Junior National Baseball Team that will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Oceania qualifying tournament from Dec. 12 to 15 in New Zealand has been named.
The final roster of 18 players were chosen out of a pool of 40 prospective players over a series of tryouts that were held since August.
The final cut was made last Nov. 12 with 17 year-old Charles McDonald III from Saipan International School chosen as the team captain. Co-captains are Angelo Igitol and Jeremiah Suel III. The rest of the team includes Noah Aguon, Joell Borja, Justin Camacho, Joey DelaCruz Jr., Joel Deleon Guerrero, Derrence Diaz, Jon Diaz, Achilles Evangelista, Christopher Gonzales, Andre Iguel, Keahie Omapas, Benjamin Palacios, Jylon Sablan, Michael Tomokane, and Jesus Tyquiengco.
The team manager is Joey Dela Cruz with coaches Manny Sablan, Mike Cruz, Jeremiah Suel, and John Peter Sablan.
“I’m really excited for my team—we have a lot to prove. It’s been four years since we’ve really stepped on the field and we really have a lot to show. I know everyone’s been doubting us lately, taking the CNMI out of the picture for baseball, but the last [Pacific] Mini Games when the CNMI brought home gold, that really inspired everyone, and honestly, it really did bring back baseball to the island. We’re gonna go out there and give it our best. I believe in my team and I believe that every one of them has earned their spot on this team and we’re all deserving, but we’re going to work for it” said McDonald in an interview last Friday before their scrimmage.
With the final roster set, the boys are now competing for the nine starting positions that will be primarily used in New Zealand as the WBSC format doesn’t mandate a must-play rule.
Team manager Dela Cruz said about the team, “We’ve definitely progressed since August and each of the boys have grown both as a player and as a person. We are working with the boys with four days a week of practice (at times five) and allow the other days for rest, rehab, and to ensure all school work are completed and submitted. I constantly remind the boys of balancing baseball, schoolwork, and everything else that comes with being a student-athlete. We are also working hard to prepare the team on all aspects of the game from offense, defense, strength and conditioning, and mental approach. These guys are a bunch of committed young men and they’re working really hard given the short amount of time. They’ve built a brotherhood and I’m looking forward to seeing them compete and represent the CNMI in New Zealand next month.”
“For me personally, I would like to thank Jay Santos, the president of Saipan Baseball League, Herman Kintol, director of player development, and the board for the coordination and preparation to get us to New Zealand. Additionally, we like to thank SBL for allowing us to utilize the equipment that was purchased during the [Pacific] Mini Games. I would also like to recognize and thank Jerry Tan and [the Northern Marianas Sports Association] for allowing us to utilize the field, the lights and for coordinating with the Saipan Mayor’s Office to cut the grass on a weekly basis. And most importantly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2022 Pacific Mini Games baseball team for winning gold and bringing baseball back to our islands. This is huge for NMI Baseball and our community in general, ” Dela Cruz added.
The NMI U18 team will face Australia, New Zealand, Guam, and Palau in the qualifiers next month.
Both McDonald and Dela Cruz understand that the teams they will be facing in this tournament will be tough as they’ve been playing year-round baseball and have advanced baseball programs but “they will try and give it their best.”
But despite being the underdogs, “we look forward to bringing this team out, getting all the experience and exposure they can get, but also to go and compete with class—to be ambassadors of the game and to represent not only baseball, but also the NMI,” Dela Cruz ended on a positive note.
The SBL will be using the 2022 Oceania World Baseball and Softball Confederation U18 Tournament as a springboard to further develop youth baseball in the CNMI.