The East Bay Youth Athletics 13U baseball team won the Florida State Babe Ruth Championship. (Photo courtesy of East Bay Youth Athletics.)

The East Bay Youth Athletics 13U baseball team won the Florida State Babe Ruth Championship and will represent the area in the Southeast Region Tournament in Jackson, Tennessee, with a chance to move on to the World Series. They will compete in a seven-team double elimination bracket.

“I was very excited to win with my team. We put in a lot of work at practice and it showed in our game play,” said second baseman Erik Farmer. “I will remember spending time with my team the most. It’s not always about the destination, but more the journey for us.”

Riverview resident and Head Coach Kevin Cook, who has been on the East Bay Youth Athletics board for seven years and has coached for three years, grew up playing at Vance Vogel Park. His two kids now play on the same fields that their father once did. He has spent most of his childhood and adult life at this park, so naturally it holds a special place in his heart.

“It’s a fun way to help kids learn life lessons,” said Cook. “During the course of a game, a lot can happen—the failures, the successes. It’s a great place for them to learn humility, teamwork, how to win and how to lose. One thing about our team is that the kids love each other. We don’t have the biggest kids or the strongest kids, but we have the best kids, and there’s nothing they can’t do when they play together.”

There was a total of 12 kids on the team, 11 boys and one girl: Cameron Cook, Billy Miller, Erik Farmer, Victor Da Silva, Driston Marino, Jordan Shultz, Chase Davidson, J.J. Groover, Sebastian Rodriguez, Diego Morales-Ortiz, Jaakob Geyfman and Sydney Elizondo.

Cook is impressed with his team’s scrappiness and mental toughness. He remembers the semifinal game fondly because they were down 5-2 in the seventh inning, down to their final at-bat and they rose to the occasion, scoring eight runs with two outs, winning 10-6.

“When our backs are against the wall, we come together,” said Cook. “It’s hard to beat somebody that won’t quit. When you don’t quit, anything is possible.”

Left fielder Elizondo held her own against the boys. Cook remarks that she is one of the best athletes that he’s ever coached. He laughed that she threw out a kid from the outfield at the plate and the same boy gave her the ball after the game with his Snapchat written on there.

Cook expects a lot of his players to make their high school squads next year. Most of the players will attend East Bay High School and Riverview High School, but some will attend Lennard High School and Sumner High School. Elizondo plans on trying out for the East Bay baseball team.

“I’ll miss the little memories and miss hanging out with my friends. I’m not really looking into the future because I want to live in the moment and have good times with my friends,” said Elizondo. “It felt great to win states and I’m excited to see what will happen at regionals.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.