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No More Reruns At Hallandale: Welcome To The Future

New manager Greg Conde works on bunting drills with his players during a spring practice.

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Nobody wanted to leave.

With a light rain coming down and complicating baseball practice, it created the perfect excuse to pack it in. In years past the Hallandale baseball team likely would have done just that. But not this group, not this year, not anymore.

The 2014 Chargers want to play baseball. They’ll play in the rain, they’ll play in the cold, and they’ll play whenever they get the chance. This team is eager to wipe the slate on this program’s dog-days, and they are ready to put in the work it will take to make this club a contender.

Baseball has never been that big of a deal at Hallandale. But all that is going to change.

“The whole point of this season is teamwork and building a program to start something new around here,” said junior Anthony Moron. “Nobody really cares much about baseball around here and that’s something we’re trying to change. We’re building and it’s all a matter of hard work.”

When the school brought in Greg Conde to take over as the team’s new manager, the dice was cast and the players quickly came to realize that they finally had the right leader in place. Conde is an honest and demanding coach, who commands respect and who gives respect to each and every player. He is there because he wants to be, and he is pushing the guys harder than they ever knew they could be pushed.

Nobody is complaining.

“Our goal is to respect the people around us and to have respect for the game,” Coach Conde said. “It starts with respecting themselves first. The game will come to them. Family is first, school is second and then baseball. It’s a good group of kids. They all want to learn and they understand that what they put into it is what they’re going to get out of it.”

Players are bonding quickly and becoming a family.

Conde is a family man, and his players have learned to respect family and appreciate that they will support them along the way. The players are getting to know themselves and learn why they play the game. They are learning life lessons through baseball, but really the baseball is the bonus on the side.

Conde is looking for leaders, not followers. He demands maximum effort every second of every day. Practices are very up tempo and the team is working hard. The kids have never been pushed like this before, but they are proving to be very coachable. This team has never been as accountable for their actions than they are right now. Communication is easy and two-sided, because everyone respects one another.

“He is even better than I anticipated or expected,” said junior Josh Martinez. “He really puts us in a mode that makes us want to strive for victory. He wants us to succeed, not only in baseball but in life. He’s a real good coach, but really everything about him shows he is a great guy. He just really helps us in life.”

The team is learning that they are in control of what they do. Everyone understands that this program has not seen much success, and it is going to take time to change that. Yet any team that works as hard as the Chargers are working, and showing the dedication it takes to be successful, will ultimately find success.

Part of this process also focuses on the mental part of the game. Conde gives the players written tests about baseball, helping to educate them about baseball and incorporate these cognitive skills in all their studies.

“It shows them it is more then just hitting, pitching and playing defense,” Conde said. “They understand that I know the game, and the more you know the more you are worth. It’s great because they want to learn and I want to teach them. It’s all you could ask for.”

Conde tells the guys you cannot earn straight A’s without doing your homework. At the moment they treat things like they are in kindergarten as a program, in part recognition that they have left district play and will compete as an independent this season. They hope to skip some grades and eventually graduate early to return and compete for a district title.

“This is something we all want to do. To do it we have to have teamwork and dedication,” said Moron. “This year we may not win a lot of games, but we’re going to try to put something together. Next year it will be a whole different story. I just want to leave a mark that Chargers baseball is going to be re-energized. We have a great coach and all the new guys are going to see that baseball is the best sport in the world.”

Everyone is giving their best effort every step of the way.

As one of the returning veterans Moron understands that to play this game you have to love it. It takes hard work and it takes being able to do the basic fundamentals. He enjoys working with the new guys to help show them what needs to be done, and he knows his fellows returning teammates feel the same way and have his back.

With the evaluation process of the spring still taking place, it remains to be seen where Moron will have the best impact on the club. Like many of the guys, the likelihood is that he will be counted on in many ways to play a big role on the field.

The infield defense remains unsettled, but guys like Pablo Oren, Mark Pierre and Nick Rojas are figuring into things. Martinez will also shore up the infield by putting in time at third base, when he is not on the mound.

The right-hander earned some valuable experience on the hill last season, and now he returns with a chance to play a vital role for the pitching staff. Martinez is humble but confident, understanding there is lots of room for improvement but knowing he is beginning to see signs of that work paying off. He continues to work on his pitches and hopes to be someone the team can rely on.

“I cannot call myself the best, but nobody here is the best,” Martinez admitted. “We all have to work as a team. Not only am I going to influence everyone else, but they are going to influence me. I know we’re going to give our best, not just in practice but also in games. We’ve all come together because how much we love baseball and how important it is to us.”

Another strong arm that Hallandale is grooming along is sophomore Rafael Sanchez. The right-hander from the Dominican Republic has shown nice consistency and big-game potential. Conde jokes that Sanchez is the perfect player, because the only English he knows is “yes Coach”.

It seems a perfect pairing between players and coach. The reaction has been great and there is a real and genuine buzz hovering around the team. It is an honest and self-aware approach that understands the road ahead is long and difficult. The Chargers are embracing their namesake and plunging forward in their quest to rewrite their history books.

Success is something that is earned. Rewards await this team, and patience will only make those spoils that much sweeter in the end.

“We all put in the same work and we all have the same want and desire to be a better team,” Conde said. “It’s going to take everybody we’ve got to be able to make the plays and execute the little things. If we can control what we can control I think we’ll be competitive. That’s the goal for this year. Nobody complains.”

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