Santa Ynez Heat return from Nicaragua baseball tour

The Santa Ynez Heat baseball team

The Santa Ynez Heat roster for Nicaragua, pictured here with the team from San Jorge, included Walker Armstrong, Chase Devlin, Brett Filippin, Brooks Filippin, Troy Mauk, Daniel McKinney, Ozzie Medina, Josh Miller and Avery Tuck. Gino Filippin is the longtime manager and Gary Miller, Assistant Manager


The Santa Ynez Heat U16 all-star baseball team recently returned home from playing six games in eight days while on a trip to Nicaragua.

Worn down by a week of baseball in hot and humid Nicaragua, the Santa Ynez Heat 16U travel team nevertheless saved its best for last and defeated a tough Granada squad 3 to 2.

Avery Tuck pitched 5 shutout innings and Daniel McKinney led the Heat attack with two booming doubles in a hard-fought game played in the impressive Granada, Nicaragua baseball stadium.

Santa Ynez Heat players in the "visitantes" dugout.

Santa Ynez Heat players in the “visitantes” dugout.

After the game and the traditional handshakes all around, Heat players, Manager Gino Filippin and Assistant Manager Gary Miller did what they did after every game the team played in Nicaragua: give away bats, balls and jerseys. The smiles on the faces of the Nicaraguans who received this equipment will likely be remembered long after the memories of the games the team won and lost fade away.

The team began its first day in Nicaragua with a fun hike around Masaya Volcano National Park. Unfortunately, the team bus ran late and the Heat did not arrive at its first match until 10 minutes before game time. San Jorge, the home team, scored 5 runs in the first inning, much to the delight of several hundred curious fans who had come to watch the locals play the Americans. The Heat played San Jorge even for the rest of the game but never recovered from the bad start and lost 7-2.

One of the most memorable days of the trip was a full day of baseball in the coastal town of San Juan del Sur. The Heat conducted a morning baseball clinic for kids 8 to 12. Heat players led the young Nicaraguans through infield, outfield and pitching drills and worked alongside leaders from the local Nicaraguan youth organization Comunidad Connect.

Baseball is the national sport in Nicaragua and the passion these kids felt for the sport was obvious from their enthusiasm. Heat players passed out dozens of quality jerseys, most collected from around Santa Barbara County by team parent Craig Armstrong.

San Juan del Sur Bay, Nicaragua

The team above San Juan del Sur Bay. Nicaragua is a popular travel destination this year, getting ranked by the NY Times as the No. 3 place to go in 2013.

In the afternoon, the Heat scrimmaged with two area teams with players 16 to 20. Some of the Nicaraguan players joined the Heat in the visitors? dugout and, for several innings, Heat players took orders from a guest Nicaraguan manager.

Players and townspeople enjoyed a Nicaraguan barbecue hosted by Santa Barbaran Kyle Ashby?s Travel in Central America tour company. Ashby personally escorted the Heat around the country?the first of what the company owner hopes is many more baseball tours by American teams to Nicaragua.

?Nicaragua?s diversity, activities, communities and strong baseball culture provide an incredible opportunity for youth, collegiate and adult teams,? said Ashby. ?The Santa Ynez Heat team and tour, really proved that baseball teams traveling to Nicaragua can experience top-level baseball, give back to the appreciative communities they visit, and enjoy some incredible sights and experiences.?

In addition to playing a lot of baseball, the team packed in a lot of fun: surfing, beach volleyball, fishing and a zip-line tour. The players also did some sightseeing, attended a church service, and helped out at Los Pepitos, a special needs school.

Due to injuries, academic demands and scheduling conflicts, the Heat?s roster shrank to the bare minimum of 9 players just before the team left for Nicaragua. Manager Gino Filippin had to constantly improvise to stay competitive with his short-handed squad, which dropped 3 of 5 games (a 1-1 record with players of the same age) on the trip. The Heat missed an opportunity to even its record in Nicaragua when a 6th game was rained-out.

Baseball is an incredibly popular sport in Nicaragua

Baseball is an incredibly popular sport in Nicaragua

Every Heat player played every inning and pitchers were pushed to the limit. Walker Armstrong pitched in three games, Avery Tuck hurled 8 strong innings and Ozzie Medina excelled at the tough task of switching back and forth between catching and pitching.

Josh Miller gave new meaning to the words ?utility player? when he played six different positions on the diamond during the course of the trip. The Filippin brothers held down the right side of the infield with excellent play by Brett (first base) and Brooks (second base). Troy Mauk?s steady play on the left side of the infield, along with his high on-base percentage, earned him trip MVP honors. Chase Devlin and Daniel McKinney did a stellar job of patrolling the vast outfields of the Nicaraguan stadiums.

Perhaps the most intriguing stop on the tour was at the Nicaragua Baseball Academy, where top 16 to 18-year-olds in the country train with the express purpose of one day playing professional baseball. Last summer the Seattle Mariners signed 17-year-old right-handed pitcher Kevin Gadea from the Academy. Heat players got a chance to talk with pitcher Jason Laguna who, just days before, signed with the Atlanta Braves and will be heading to the U.S. in September.

Nicaragua Baseball Academy pitchers were impressive to be sure and the Academy blanked the Heat 5 to 0 on the Academy field, located on a lakeshore, just off the Panamerican Highway near San Juan del Sur. The Heat matched the Academy?s hit total, but the hits were not timely blows and the Heat stranded numerous runners in scoring position. Heat hurler Daniel McKinney kept them in the game with 3 innings of hitless relief, but the Heat failed to cash-in on several scoring opportunities.

Baseball. It?s an international game. For the Heat, top student athletes from around Santa Barbara County, the journey to Nicaragua was the trip of a lifetime. They returned home with increased awareness of the power of baseball to build bridges and more appreciation for the many blessings of life in the U.S.

For Manager Gino Filippin, the Great Nicaragua Baseball Tour was a kind of culmination of his good work with the Santa Ynez Heat, the team he founded 10 years ago. Under his leadership, the Heat was the first American youth baseball team in recent memory to travel to Nicaragua.

Given the rave reviews of the baseball tour by both the Americans and Nicaraguans, it won?t be the last.