United by a common passion for baseball, a group of teenagers representing Winslow, Holbrook, Cottonwood and Payson played their way this season to a USSA No. 1 ranking in the 14-years-and-under age division.
After finishing first in Arizona and second in Region 5, which includes Canada, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, the team advanced to the 2012 USSA 14U Global World Series where it won the bronze medal with a 2-3-1 record.
One of the team’s most exciting wins occurred in bracket play where the small-town Arizona crew edged the Illinois Flames 1-0.
During the regular season playing in the highly competitive AAA division, the team (19-11) finished first in three tournaments, second in two others and third in three. It also had one fourth-place finish.
Offensively, the team averaged 6.9 runs per game while holding opponents to an average of 4.8.
This year, the Dawgs’ roster includes three Payson players — David Evans, Rueben Estrada and Taran Sarnowski.
Evans is a utility player who most often can be found at third base, center field or possibly pitching.
Estrada was primarily a pitcher and catcher but could play in infield.
Sarnowski is known for his pitching abilities but could be found behind the plate when called upon.
All just completed their second season with the traveling team.
In addition to the three competing for the Dawgs, all were members of the Payson Little League 13-14-years “Junior” baseball team that this season won Area 1 and District 1 titles.
The team represented the district in the state championship tournament in Prescott where it was fourth.
A few years ago, when the traveling team was founded, players, coaches and managers adopted the name Dawgs.
It was chosen because “Dawgs” is an acronym 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 last year to the 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.”
While it might seem difficult to gather boys from four 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.
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 2011 Area and District 12-year-old postseason tournaments.
During the frays, Velez and Sarnowski became acquainted, which prompted the Winslow coach to invite the Payson all-stars to join Team Dawgs and play competitively year-round.
Next up for the Dawgs is a preseason tournament Aug. 25 in Payson, probably on the Rumsey Park Kiwanis fields.
Team Vortex, Team Wildfire and Team Crush as well as the Dawgs are expected to participate in a round robin.
In preparing for upcoming tournaments and the new season, Noah Sarnowski said he’s extremely grateful to the many supporters in Payson who have backed the team both financially and as fans.