While so much of the amateur baseball talent in America is focused in warm-weather states, the Bronx Bombers have put together a supremely talented group of players that can stand up against the best teams in the country. However, they don’t just develop great baseball players, they give opportunities to young men.
Eric Semler started a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that sponsors the Bronx Bombers called Bronx Baseball Dreams. Since he has been involved with the Bombers, he has had a hands-on approach in the organization, acting as a coach.
“Our mission is to help kids in need who are terrific baseball players get as good an education as possible, and eventually get them a college education as a ticket to a better life,” said Semler. “We try to take exceptional baseball players, primarily from the Bronx, who can’t afford to travel, SAT tutoring, and other benefits like that, and we provide those services to them so they can have an opportunity to be seen and recruited, hopefully earning a scholarship.”
The Bombers have grown since their beginnings, and have now started an SAT tutoring program so that their players have a better chance of going to a high-end college. They have also established a new facility of their own, dubbed “Bomberville,” which gives the kids a place where they can play and train year-round. Amateur ballplayers in warm-weather states have a big advantage over kids in New York because they can work on their games throughout the year, but the Bronx Bombers now can develop their players throughout the year regardless of the weather conditions.
As for the kids on the 17u team playing in the Mid-Atlantic Regional this weekend, Semler couldn’t be prouder. While the Bombers have teams younger than the 17u team, this is the oldest group of Bombers the program has seen, and many members of this team are now entering their senior years. Semler has, “been around a lot of these kids since they were 7 or 8 years old. They’re all wonderful kids who are trying really hard in school while being committed to baseball.”
The Bombers are much more than a wonderful story of opportunity; they’re also a really good baseball team. Led by head coach Chuck Gutierrez, the team is composed of numerous players who will have opportunities to play at the college—and in some cases professional—levels.
It’s not just their talent that should scare other teams in the Mid-Atlantic Region, however, as they play great together as a team.
The Bombers success starts with their leadoff hitter and shortstop Randy Taveras. From talking to Semler, it’s abundantly clear he loves having Taveras as his shortstop. “He runs about a 6.5 60-yard dash, he has an incredible arm and great hands. He barely ever makes errors, it’s a rare moment when the ball gets past him.”
While Taveras is valuable on defense, the part of the game he takes most pride in is his hitting. Taveras explained how, “when we need a base runner in a tight game, I love that situation, and I just try and put the ball in play to try and help my team win.”
Taveras excels both in the field and at the plate, but Semler sees his leadership ability as his best quality. “Randy is really our leader, he’s a kid with a great attitude, and he jumpstarts our offense with his contact and power ability.” Semler believes the middle infield is one of the Bombers’ greatest strengths, as Robert Velasquez complements Taveras up the middle. Velasquez, “has a great glove, he rarely makes an error, and is a very intelligent baseball player. He has remarkable consistency to his game.”
Along with Taveras, Juan Carlos Ramos acts a leader for the Bombers with his play behind the plate. “He has a bullet of an arm,” Semler said. “He’s a kid who’s big and strong and can hit the ball a long way. He’s a leader, he revs up our team, and he shows a lot of emotion on the field. He’s one of the most animated players we’ve ever had. He has this electricity that all of us kind of feed off of.”
Hearing Ramos describe his own style of play, it’s easy to imagine his leadership on the diamond. “I play for my team, I get really excited, I play aggressively, and I try to have fun.” While he takes pride in his ability to throw out runners, he enjoys hitting the most, and feels like he is a consistent line-drive hitter at the plate. He is currently the No. 3 Class of 2016 prospect in New York, and with a strong summer, he should rise higher in the national rankings.
Ramos isn’t the Bombers only catcher with a bright future, however. Semler sees catcher Felix Camacho as, “a really terrific hitter. He has a really good shot at playing at any college he wants.”
The Bombers have a number of supremely talented two-way players as well.
Jonel Ozuna is one of the Bombers key players as both a pitcher and an outfielder. On the mound, Ozuna is a big lefty who sits in the mid- to upper-80s. Last summer, he had a minor arm injury that limited his velocity, but in the past year he has continued to build arm strength and is now completely healthy. According to Jonel, “my strength as a pitcher is that I can locate my pitches very well down in the strike zone. My best pitch is my curveball, it has late slider movement but I still like to call it my curveball.” He also mixes in an improving changeup and a two-seam fastball.
Ozuna also has a lot of potential as an outfielder. Semler explained how Ozuna is, “a year young for his grade. He has a lot of potential and upside. He’s a terrific hitter, he has a great swing, and can play the outfield with his speed. He has pretty much all the tools you want.”
Ozuna believes that as a hitter, “I would consider myself a power-threat, because every time there’s someone on base, I feel like I can produce.” Ozuna won the team-MVP at All Hallows High School, and he hopes to be named among Daily News’ best players in the city during his senior season.
Jorge Meran is teammates with Ozuna on both the Bombers and at All Hallows, and is also a tremendous two-way player. According to Perfect Game’s Class of 2015 rankings, he is the No. 3 Class of 2015 prospect in the state of New York and the No. 253 prospect in the country.
On the mound, Semler believes, “Jorge has developed into a really, really strong pitcher in the last year or two. Last year in Atlanta at the WWBA tournament, he threw a no-hitter, and he maintained his velocity really well, sitting at 90 in the 7th inning.” He mixes his fastball, changeup and slider, and is working on improving his changeup.
Meran is just as valuable to the Bombers as an outfielder. “Jorge is a completely all-around skilled ballplayer,” said Semler. “He has a cannon of an arm, and is one of our fastest guys, running under 7 seconds in the 60-yard dash. He also has a really strong bat, he has great power and makes great contact.”
As Meran enters his senior year, his focus is on playing college baseball. He is currently uncommitted, but considering Wake Forest, Maryland, and Fordham. “He’s a great, respectful humble kid,” said Semler. “He would be a dream-catch for any college coach.”
Along with Ozuna and Meran, Robin Adames is one of the Bombers’ power hitters. He’s a big third baseman who according to Semler has, “a great arm and great hands. He has the potential to be a top draft pick.” Adames plays a key role for James Monroe high school during the academic year, and his big bat is sure to grab scouts’ attention during the Super25 series.
Perfect Game’s new Super25 tournament series will allow the Bombers to prove their worth, showing how important playing together as a team really is. Semler explained his thoughts on the Super25 tournament model: “We love the concept of winning on a local level and then winning on a national level, and we love the fact that Perfect Game has created such a model. It’s refreshing. I love the idea of bringing a local, homegrown team to compete on a national level.”
Compared to other tournament models where teams often fly in players from across the country, Semler believes the Super25 model is superior. “There’s so much more pride in winning when it’s a bunch of people who have played together for many years. The quality of the baseball is better, the camaraderie is better, and the feeling of triumph is better.”
Semler’s thoughts about the Super25 tournament resonate with his players. Randy Taveras explained how he feels playing together for so long will give the Bombers an edge in the Super25, saying, “we’ve been playing for a couple years, we’ve been with each other in both difficult and great times. We want everyone in the country to know we’re the best team, and that’s what we strive for.”
The Bombers are more than a group of talented young baseball players; they are evidence of what young men can achieve when given the opportunity. These kids are blessed with great talent, and with the Bombers, they have been able to get the necessary exposure and coaching to advance both their baseball and academic careers.
Still, the Bombers aren’t just a good story; they’re a really good baseball team. Looking up and down their roster, it’s easy to see them as a serious threat to not only win the Super25 Mid-Atlantic Regional, but the National Championship as well. Semler and the Bombers will have the chance to prove their worth in the Super25 series, and it all begins this weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Regional.