Dan Slater has been coaching youth baseball for 29 years, but this past season as the Gilroy Junior All Star team manager has been his most enjoyable season ever. Not only did Gilroy shine on the field—it advanced to the NorCal State Tournament in Visalia—but everyone from the players to the parents were simply outstanding.
“The parents were good and supportive, and I had a blast with these kids,” Slater said. “The people who organized (the NorCal State Tournament) told me this team was one of the best (in regards to) sportsmanship. They were impressed with how the kids handled themselves, and how they played with enthusiasm. We must have been on that field for an hour afterward taking pictures.”
Slater could’ve been referring to the District 59 and Section 5 Tournaments Gilroy won or even after getting eliminated in the NorCal State Tournament. Win or lose, the Gilroy Junior All Stars—a team featuring 13- and 14-year-olds—played with tremendous passion and a love for the game that was evident in the way they carried themselves.
The roster includes Zen Bodeman, Uriah Brown, Ethan Carrasco, Andrew Ceballos, Miguel Flores, Nicholas Johnson-Demers, Andrew Lujan, Edward Lujan, Brayden Martinez, Carter Martinez, Anthony Navarro, Trevor Perez and Ricky Wilkerson III. Gilroy went a combined 6-1 to win the District 59 and Section 5 Tournaments, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 66-18 in the process. Gilroy managed to win its first game in the NorCal State Tournament before dropping two straight to get eliminated.
The back-to-back losses couldn’t put too much of a damper on a season that saw the program advance to the NorCal State level for one of the few times in program history. Five years ago, Gilroy made history by winning NorCals and advancing to the Western Regionals. Things seemed like they were headed that way again until Gilroy got sloppy with the baseball.
“I wish we could’ve not had so many errors in the last two games, or we might have kept on playing,” Slater said. “If we had won Sunday’s (winner’s bracket) game, we would’ve been sitting real pretty because we had our two aces (Ed Lujan and Ceballos) ready to go. But Sunday the defense wasn’t there.”
In addition to Lujan and Ceballos, Carrasco and Carter Martinez proved to be stalwarts on the mound. Carrasco received the start for pivotal games in the District and NorCal/State Tournament, while Ed Lujan and Andrew Lujan possess solid fastballs and curveballs in their pitching repertoire. Carter Martinez also made a huge impact, a player who Slater calls the team’s secret weapon.
“Carter gave up only one through Sectionals before giving up a couple of hits (in the team’s final game at NorCal/State),” Slater said. “He throws a bit slower, but has a really good curve, which throws hitters off.”
Offensively, Navarro, Bodeman, Perez, Anthony Lujan, and Ed Lujan performed consistently well. After scoring a bunch of runs in district and section, Gilroy couldn’t manufacture enough at NorCal/State. Still, it was a magnificent effort and worthy to be praised.
“I told them they ought to be proud getting to NorCals because it doesn’t happen that often,” Slater said. “We were on fire; I don’t know what happened. Our bats went dead and the defense wasn’t there, either.”
Gilroy had several highlights during the All Star season, but its finest moment probably revolved around it beating Soledad to win the Section 5 Tournament. Gilroy actually played Soledad three times, winning the first contest before losing Game 1 of the championship round. However, Gilroy bounced back with a convincing victory in the winner-take-all game.
“For me that was our (top) highlight because after losing we came back the next day to win it,” Slater said. “The kids came ready to play, and it was a different team than the one that played a day before. They did what they had to do and sucked it up. … You spend a lot of time with these kids (for the All Star season), and you get to know their personalities. It’s fun and it’s why I still coach after all these years.”
Slater’s sons are 29 and 35, but unlike most Little League coaches who move on after their sons age up, Slater still has stayed on after all these years.
“When we won Sectionals, it was crazy,” he said. “You get that big ol’ flag, and there is nothing like sharing in that moment with those kids.”