At 11 and Younger, North Denver Bambinos Prep for Future
Rain delayed practice for the North Denver Bambinos on July 1, one day before the team of 11-year-olds had a game.
It was yet another setback for them, and coach Nathan Aguilar said the bad weather has been “kind of the storyline this year.”
The Bambinos have seen a year much like other young athletes. The COVID-19 pandemic made for a dismal world of online school. Activities were canceled, and young players lost a critical season in their development.
It rained so hard July 1 that the next day’s game against a team from Brighton had to be moved from Skinner Middle School to Lake Middle School just down the road.
During the beginning of the pandemic, Aguilar said he had to get permits in Westminster to book practices, as nearby public schools closed their facilities.
“I would say they (the players) are really committed,” Aguilar said. “Everybody has family plans and travels. But, for the most part, everybody has been really committed, going year-round with me. I think that’s what’s really helped them…develop.”
Currently, the Bambinos organization fields teams of under 9 years old, under 10 years old, and under 11 years old, with the latter being the oldest team, and they play in the Rocky Mountain Junior Baseball League.
The rules for the league are arduous for a group of almost-middle-schoolers. For example, baserunners can steal whenever they please, unlike in Little League and similar youth baseball factions where a pitch must first cross home plate before a runner can try to advance. They play by the same rules as Major League Baseball, except the field is smaller.
The kind of focus it takes to play with those kinds of rules can make it even harder on some of the newer Bambinos, and a few of them started playing baseball just within the last year.
The Bambinos may look like an elite youth baseball team, they work together like one, but they can’t enjoy the same benefits that may be available to other programs. The teams must chalk and maintain their own fields.
“At the high school level, you know, you have to do your own field (work),” Aguilar said. “It gives the kids some exposure and some accountability and ownership. When they play on the field, they rake it and they just respect it a little bit more.”
Umpires were also missing from the July 2 game, and coaches had to fill those roles.
Aguilar started the Bambinos with a friend, who also had children the same age, in 2016, beginning in the Develop Police Activities League.
Aguilar said he wants the Bambinos to become a “feeder” team, a team that grooms young players for the high school level, particularly for the local North High School Vikings.
The Vikings won a regional tournament playoff game this season after claiming the top spot in the Denver Public Schools league regular season.
“I don’t have the staffing, the coaching support, to support some of those kids that have wanted to come to play for us,” he said. “And it’s really unfortunate because I can only stack a roster so much. I can’t bring on additional kids. It’s hard finding coaches that are here to help groom and mentor them and develop them.”
Aguilar said Vikings coach Ernesto Marquez has been instrumental in helping the young players enhance their skills, but it will take a coach who has enough time to dedicate to weekly practices to grow the organization.
“Nathan knows how important it is for any high school program to have kids that feed into a program, who not only have the ability but the knowledge of the game,” Marquez said. “I can’t thank him enough for starting that organization.”
Marquez said he estimates 95% or more of the Bambinos players will matriculate to NHS. The Vikings coach son plays for the U11 team, and Aguilar was an assistant coach for the high school at one time.
“I have the confidence in Nathan to teach kids how to play baseball,” Marquez said, adding he tries to help when he’s not busy with the Vikings, but he’s not a full-time coach for the Bambinos.
Although the team has been through some uphill battles, there have been successes. The Bambinos won their first tournament game last month in Granby, and the U11 and U10 teams were slated to play in the USSAA baseball AA state tournament July 10-11. Results are expected to be posted to usssa.com/baseball, which were unavailable as of press time.
For more information on the team, check out www.bambinosbaseball.com
Eric Heinz is a freelance journalist based in Denver. He most recently covered Los Angeles City Hall for City News Service.