A love of the sport of baseball has prompted a band of five Payson baseball players, all younger than 14 years, to hook up with fellow athletes from Winslow and Holbrook to form The Dawgs Traveling Club.
Most telling about the team name “Dawgs” is that it is an acronym standing for Discipline, Attitude, Will, Genuine and Scholar.
“That’s what this team is all about,” said assistant coach Noah Sarnowski of Payson, “We hold our players to a higher standard.”
Dawgs head coach, Nathan Velez, of Winslow, explained the team concept further in an e-mail to players that read, “I expect you to be leaders both on and off the field.
“This means at times going against the grain or the ‘cool’ things to do with your peers, at school and in your community.
“The more you practice your skills at saying ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to the right things in life — it all becomes easier.”
Competing in the 14U bracket of the USSSA baseball organization, the Dawgs began the season playing on the AA level, but after a third-place finish in the Back to School Brawl in a Las Vegas tournament, officials moved the team up to the more competitive AAA bracket.
Following the Las Vegas tournament, the Dawgs put on another stellar showing with a second-place finish on Sept. 17 and 18 at the Fall Classic in Phoenix.
Velez calls the defeat in the championship game, “a tough loss, yet I am grateful for your courage and ability to keep in the game until the very last out.”
Next, the team is scheduled to compete Oct. 29-30 in the Halloween Scream and on Nov. 11-12 in the Veterans Day Salute. Both tournaments are in the Valley.
The team’s eventual goal is to qualify for the USSSA World Series to be held July 2012 in California.
“But that’s only if we can get the funding, we’re working on doing that now,” said Sarnowski.
While it might seem difficult to gather boys from three communities located miles apart for practice sessions, the coaches have worked out a scheme in which each community’s players work out once a week in their hometown and then meet on weekends for combined practices.
And the head coach leaves little doubt team members must show up.
“Players should be aware that all workouts scheduled are mandatory,” said Velez. “Continued commitment to the program is expected.”
The team has its roots in the Area and District 12-year-old postseason tournaments held last summer.
During the frays, Velez and Sarnowski became acquainted, which prompted the Winslow coach to invite five of the Payson all-stars to join Team Dawgs and play competitively year-round.
“All were happy to do it,” said Sarnowski.
Payson players on the team include Ruben Estrada, David Evans, Austin Gibson, Taran Sarnowski and Tristan Stockman.
Among the Payson contingent, Estrada is hitting .563, Taran Sarnowski .538, Gibson .533, Evans .500 and Stockman is a pitcher.