PenCities White Sox baseball team — a travel squad comprised of college players and recent high school graduates — made a decision to go the non-traditional route of creating a dream schedule outside of league play.
Previously, the White Sox played in the Palomino Division of PONY Baseball. This year, they were given the freedom of building their dream schedule for the summer.
“It ended up being super convenient and they (players) are all are grown up and independent,” said White Sox manager Lenny Souza. “Yes, we were not as legitimized (not playing in a league), but we played teams that were the best in their league.”
A benefit of going the non-traditional route for summer baseball was it allowed Souza to manage the innings the way that he wanted so all his players received playing time. Mario Vargas, a Burlingame graduated who redshirted his freshman year at College of San Mateo, saw a lot of time on the mound for the White Sox this summer, to get him ready for his upcoming season with the Bulldogs.
“He was really good this summer. He got a lot of playing time,” Souza said of Vargas. “We had plenty of depth and we learned a lot and the kids learned a lot more.”
Their record for the season came to 17-9-1 after playing some of the best teams around California. Three of those losses came during a five-game road trip to San Diego, which included games against teams with multiple Division I college players. Their week consisted of one game Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was a off day then a doubleheader Saturday to finish off the trip. Souza set up the schedule to keep his players as fresh as possible.
“I wouldn’t let [pitchers] go past four innings because when you’re going past four innings, you’re stressing their arms and why do that when you have depth?” Souza said.
Looking toward the summer of 2020, Souza expects a full roster and is already planning what the schedule will look like for the team. He already decided on a road trip to Hawaii to compete against some new competition.
“Eighty percent of my guys will be back next summer,” Souza said. “I think we will turn down league play next year because it worked out really well. A lot of kids really liked the idea and you can play all the top teams whenever we want to bulk up the schedule.”
PenCities White Sox manager Lenny Souza figured his team accomplished most everything it could playing at the under-19 level as a member of the Palomino Division under the PONY baseball umbrella.
This year, Souza is going to lead the White Sox into the collegiate/adult division as the program embarks on an independent schedule for the 2019 summer.
“I felt like we had done everything we could at that (Palomino) level — except make the (Palomino) world series,” said Souza, who also serves as manager for the Aragon baseball team. “The idea was to make sure [the players] are getting junior-college competition.
“It’s a new venture. It’s exciting. It’s new.”
The White Sox will play their home games at Skyline College and will play road games around the greater Bay Area, including stops at Baylands in Palo Alto, Sonoma State University and San Leandro Ballpark, which is right off Interstate 880, about three exits south of the Oakland Coliseum. They will be making one major road trip — a two-team, five-game roadie to San Diego, where they’ll face the San Diego Invaders and San Diego Hustle.
“Comic-con is going on that weekend,” Souza said.
The team is comprised mainly of former White Sox and current Skyline College players, including the likes of Matt Leong (Hillsdale), Mitchell Plane (Carlmont) and Tyler White (Burlingame). Dominic Monzon (San Mateo) is returning from his sophomore year at Lewis & Clark College.
Souza said about a third to a half of the team are returning players and another handful — David Bedrosian (Carlmont) and Camron Grant (Aragon) — recently finished up their senior years of high school. The rest of the team is filled out by word of mouth.
“Players are picked up based on player recommendations,” Souza said. “That’s how we’ve found some of our best players. The kids vouch for good players.”
Because the White Sox are not part of any league, they are not beholden to any league’s rules. So while the team is essentially a college-level squad, there are a few high school seniors. But most of the team is comprised of players who recently wrapped up freshman and sophomore college seasons.
“We decided to cap it at 23U. But more are 18, 19, 20 and one 23-year-old,” Souza said. “We’re not in a league, so we can do what we want.”
Not being in a league, however, means putting together a schedule proved to be a daunting task. Without a built-in league schedule, Souza had to go out and put together a 31-game season by serving as non-league games for teams in other leagues. And the schedule runs the gamut: the White Sox will be playing against adult teams, college-level and some high school U18 squads.
“We looked into getting into leagues. It just didn’t work out. It kind of forced us to be an independent team for a summer,” Souza said. “Our schedule is crazy. … You schedule whoever you want, you don’t have to answer to anybody, you can play as many games as you want, you can pick where you travel.
“The drawback is, there are no playoffs.”
Souza said that the biggest hurdle was convincing these other teams that his was a legitimate operation. As a new program, the White Sox had not built up any kind of reputation and when field and umpire costs are factored in, teams want to make sure that the “new guy” is a bona fide team that will show up for games. Souza spent several weeks finding teams and leagues online and then reaching out with phone calls to put together his schedule.
“There were a lot of, ‘Who the hell are you’ (questions),” Souza said. “But it’s funny how all the (baseball) circles run. It’s a lot of the same people (I’ve dealt with in the past). A lot of the guys (I contacted) were very helpful.”
The only thing left to do is start play. The White Sox will kick off their 31-game schedule June 9, when they’ll take a short trip down Highway 101 to Baylands Park in Palo Alto to face the Palo Alto Oaks.
“Guys want to do other things (during the summer),” Souza said. “But guys also want to get in their swings and get in their throwing.”
The PenCities White Sox were 90 feet away from the Palomino League World Series.
But the mission of reaching the big dance in Laredo, Texas — the goal of this 18-and-under dream team since Day One — fell short of being realized, as the White Sox were overcome 10-7 in extra innings by host MLB Academy in the West Zone Tournament finals at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton.
“You have such a great season with all these highs, and the lows are shocking when they happen because they just don’t happen very often,” White Sox manager Lenny Souza said. “These kids had a great season. I thought they deserved to go to the World Series. And we’re crushed.”
The one-game championship showdown featured some big swings on the scoreboard. The White Sox jumped out to a 4-0 lead after two innings, but Academy rallied back to take a 7-5 lead into the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh, the White Sox rallied to tie it on a bases-loaded walk by Noah Marcelo.
“The whole team, 1 thru 9, they put their best at-bats of the season out there,” White Sox slugger Jordan Brandenburg said. “We really left everything out there those last few innings.”
But with the bases loaded and two outs, Brandenburg grounded out to shortstop to end the seventh-inning threat, sending the game to extra innings. Academy answered with three runs in the top of the eighth, which proved to be the difference.
The White Sox outhit Academy 12-11, with Brandenburg, Kasi Pohahau and Kevin Jacobs totaling three hits apiece.
“We hit well,” Souza said. “Twelve hits is a lot of hits. I felt like it was good enough to win.”
With its fourth game in four days, PenCities turned to untested starting pitcher Nathan Peng. The right-hander has been dynamite in relief all season with the best sheer velocity on the team. Despite giving up six earned runs between the third and fourth innings, Peng found his footing for a gutsy performance, totaling six innings while allowing six runs on eight hits and a walk, while striking out five.
“In the bullpen, to be honest, he was kind of wild,” White Sox catcher Elliot Biagini said. “But I think it was the (bullpen) mound, because when he got out in the game he was really locating.”
Getting strike calls was another issue, according to Souza. PenCities’ skipper said Peng was not getting the outside corner, while Academy’s pitchers were. Souza’s frustrations for his starting pitcher carried over to the whole dugout, he said.
“I felt like Nate had more command today than he did all year,” Souza said. “And it was like he just wasn’t getting the calls early. We were all frustrated for him.”
Still, the White Sox jumped out to an early lead, knocking out Academy starting pitcher Tyler Tilton in the second inning.
In the first, Pohahau got PenCities on the board with an RBI double, followed by an RBI single by Jacobs. In the second, the White Sox doubled their lead. After a leadoff home run by Mitchell Plane to straightaway left field, Brandenburg produced an RBI single to drive home Jaxon Skidmore, giving PenCities a 4-0 lead.
Academy rallied back in the third to tie it, though, with the big swing of the bat coming on a two-run double by James Espalin to knot it up at 4-4. Then in the fourth, Jonathan Robinson clubbed a two-run homer to give Academy a 6-4 lead. And it wouldn’t be Robinson’s last round-tripper of the day.
With Academy reliever Cole Kitchen cruising — he ultimately went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk, while striking out seven — PenCities finally scratched out a run against him in the sixth. After Plane got hit by a pitch, and Marcelo drew a two-out walk, Brandenburg produced an RBI single to close the deficit to 6-5.
In the top of the seventh, Academy added an insurance run on an RBI double by James Williams (4 for 5 with two doubles and an RBI) but the White Sox battled back to prolong their season. Pohahau led off with a single and Jacobs reached on an error. Then with one out, Plane singled home Pohahau to close it to 7-6. With two outs, Biagini singled to load the bases. Then Marcelo walked to force home Jacobs with the tying run.
“I’ll be honest with you, at that moment I thought we were going to the World Series,” Souza said.
Brandenburg stepped to the plate looking for something he could drive. But the first pitch was off-speed and got him on his front foot, causing him to roll over to the shortstop for a routine grounder to end the threat, sending the game to extra innings.
Still, Souza said his team was in a good place emotionally.
“We were pretty fired up,” Souza said. “We thought we were going to win at that point and then the first guy comes up and hits a home run.”
Sure enough, Robinson jumped on the first pitch of the eighth in Skidmore’s second inning of relief and drove it out of the park for a go-ahead solo home run.
Then, a disputed call at third base opened the door for two more runs. With runners at first and second and one out, Noel Soto hit a fly ball to Marcelo in center. The runner at second, Sean Blandino, tagged to go to third. But as the relay throw from Marcelo, to the shortstop Plane, to Peng at third was there in time to peg Blandino, the umpire ruled Peng missed the tag, according to Souza.
“He was clearly out,” Souza said. “[The umpire] said there was no tag but that was b—s—. We were really upset. It was a tough way to go out.”
For the White Sox, it was a historic season. The PONY Palomino 18U team reached the West Zone tourney for the second straight season, the first time it has ever advanced as far in back-to-back seasons.
“The entire season it was pretty smooth sailing,” Brandenburg said. “Our team has a lot of guys on it from a lot of the local high schools and we were just super hot all season.”
MLB Academy now advances to the Palomino World Series, beginning Aug. 2 in Laredo, Texas.
The White Sox finish their season with a 29-6 overall record.
“It’s just hard to end this way,” Souza said.
The PenCities White Sox are coached by Lenny Souza and are an independent collegiate baseball team. Coach Lenny is the head coach for the Aragon Dons Varsity Baseball Program. 2019 will be Coach Lenny's 12th season coaching the White Sox. In 12 seasons the club has numerous Palomino league championships and has been ranked as one of the best Palomino teams in California many times (including most recently ranked 3rd in CA & 12th in the nation in 2017). For the first time, the 2019 White Sox will be transitioning to a collegiate baseball team playing some of the top collegiate summer baseball teams in California as well as participating in various tournaments. The team will play at Skyline College
The White Sox are a select team only.