The Saipan Baseball League is getting nervous with only a little over 220 days before the CNMI hosts its first-ever Pacific Mini Games and the Francisco “Tan Ko” M. Palacios Baseball Field still far away from being repaired.
SBL president Jay Santos said the tryouts for the CNMI National Baseball Team needs a practice field and once they’ve chosen the final 20 players they need the Tan Ko baseball field to start a new SBL season or play exhibition games, at the very least.
“I’ve been given all the assurance in the world by the governor’s authorized representative [Patrick C. Guerrero] that there will be a field that’ll be ready. To be frank with you guys and I’m not really good at being politically correct and the board knows this, I’m worried and I’ve expressed my concern to anyone who’d listen to me,” he said.
The Tan Ko baseball field has been out of commission since the harrowing winds of Super Typhoon Yutu damaged the facility.
Santos aid the process of permitting and breaking ground will take 4-5 months and since it’s already October, the earliest the Tan Ko baseball field would be ready is March if they break ground this month.
“We were hopeful since July that they’ve already broken ground and they’ve already started but obviously that’s not the case…There was supposed to be a meeting between the (Northern Marianas Sports Association) and the Public Assistance Office where the GAR is at but from what I’ve got from NMSA it didn’t happen.”
Santos added that the pipedream was that Tan Ko baseball field will be ready by the end of January, as they were planning to welcome a college team from South Korea to do their Spring training on island. He said it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to scrimmage against that South Korean college baseball team.
“Another best-case scenario is starting up a league in February to allow the national team to compete with other teams here until April and then after that further train and be prepared for the Mini Games in June…That’s the best-case scenario we thought would work out but we’re at the whim of GAR and anyone else involved,” he said.
The SBL president said their woes are in complete contrast to how rivals Guam and Palau have been preparing for next year’s Mini Games
“We’re very aware of Guam and Palau’s preparations for the Mini Games. Palau has a new and beautiful hybrid field with Astro-turf infield and grass on the outfield…That doesn’t sit well with us but we have to make use of what we have… We’re very envious [with what Palau and Guam have been doing].”
National team tryouts
Santos, who joined the rest of the SBL board in a press conference last Thursday to present Manny Sablan as the manager of the national team, said they’ve already actually met with some of the players interested in trying out for the national team.
“I’m impressed with the turnout a few weeks back when around 40 showed up [during a meeting]. Some board members said these were just half the guys. The impression I got is there are guys who are hungry to compete. We could put a team made up of guys who are not only hungry to compete but also understand the importance of playing in our home turf and playing for gold.”
To this end, Santos said SBL started its national team tryouts last Saturday with strength and conditioning coach Joey Tudela.
“We want anybody who wants to try out for the team to get involved with conditioning. We feel like their involvement and commitment to conditioning would send a message that they’re committed to this team. And by the end of December or sometime after the holidays we should be able to return and start cutting guys until we get down to our final 20. We actually are going to cut down to 30 as we have 10 alternates or practice guys,” he said.
Santos also realizes that since there’s been no SBL season the last couple of years, a number of those trying out probably will not be in baseball shape.
“We will focus on conditioning in the next 3-4 weeks. These guys maybe in softball condition. They maybe in golf condition. We want these guys in baseball condition. Anybody can come out. We will get attendance and get everyone’s contact details. You might be the best player the CNMI has ever had, but if you don’t make the commitment to conditioning and practice like everyone else, then you won’t make the team.”
Aside from Tudela, who was handpicked by SBL, Manny Sablan also chose his coaching staff and they are Derron Flores and Gary Cruz.
“Going back to the coaching staff, we’re really optimistic that they will bring these guys together into a team that will really gel and understand the importance of bringing back the gold,” said Santos.