Firecrackers Inspire During Our Nation's Crisis

Emerging within our culture is a message, and it's coming from our players. Their message is one of happiness and hope as their TikTok challenges, artwork, and video clips showing appreciation to essential workers reveal. We couldn't be more proud of the way our players are rising to the occasion in finding ways to be productive in their new "space."

We were most recently touched by the artwork created by Zoe Villarreal, who plays for our 8U Firecrackers in Brownsville, Texas, and from FC Duarte/Esquer, from the Imperial valley, who sent us this powerful collage reminding everyone to do their part during the quarantine.

 

Thank you to all of our Firecrackers across the country for your imagination!

Be safe and stay #FC Strong!

 

- Tony

 


Catchin' Up With Kaitlin Parsons

Who would you say was one of the most influential people in your life during your teenage years?

When I joined the Los Alamitos High School team, I played for Rob Weil. Rob taught me so much about the game of softball and also so much about life. After my sophomore year he asked me to join his travel team with Tony Rico and I can say without a doubt that it was the best decision I ever made as an athlete. Both Tony and Rob continued to shape me as a player and as I grew into a leader on both my high school and travel team, I could see myself becoming the player I knew I always could be. The next thing I knew I tore my ACL at the firecracker warehouse and my dad drove me to the emergency room at 10:00 at night, where Rob met me there and told me that even if I couldn’t play for him that season that everything would still be okay. That season was super hard for me, but I learned a lot both about myself and the game. Not being able to play, I sat with Tony in the stands for some of our games and he talked to me about everything he was seeing on the field. We talked about what players were thinking, what pitch Rob or the other coach was going to call, the rhythm in players movements and what that would mean for the upcoming play. I had a lot of influential people in my life as an athlete, but Tony and Rob definitely shaped me into the player and person that I am.

What years did you play for the Firecrackers and can you pinpoint a few key lessons you learned that helped you succeed and/or have helped you make the transition to Tennessee?

I played for the Firecrackers as a junior and senior in high school, so the 2017 and 2018 seasons. During the beginning I went to the firecracker warehouse almost religiously, wanting to soak up everything I could from Tony, Mel (Melissa Roth), and the other girls. Soon enough I was integrated into part of “the crew”— the girls who ran and watched over the warehouse after school. The warehouse became my safe place, it turned into my home away from home and especially when I was hurt, being in there always made me feel better. As a part of the crew Tony taught us to always be aware of everything that was happening in the warehouse- to be lifeguards. In this way, I learned to be much more aware of my surroundings and the people in them. As a Firecracker, the biggest lessons I learned were to slow down and to play with both confidence and acceptance. If you’ve prepared to the best of your ability you can be at peace with any outcome, and then you just play the game without worrying about results.

If you were to write 2-3 sentence a journal entry on Day One at the University of Tennessee, what would you have said?

Day One at the University of Tennessee was both exciting and nerve racking. I was definitely nervous about having moved across the country so far away from my friends and family, but I was so excited to start my new life here.

If you were to write a 2-3 sentence journal entry on your last day of Fall Classes/Practice, what would you have said?

The last day of fall was definitely a very welcome sight. I missed my family like crazy and couldn’t wait to be able to go see them. It went by slow at times, but ultimately I couldn’t believe I was already half way done with my first year of college.

In what area have you grown the most significantly over the past 3 months at Tennessee? 

In the past few months I think I have grown a lot in independence. Being so far away from home is definitely hard, so I’ve come to realize that even though my family isn’t here with me that they still are my biggest support system.


Firecracker and Batbuster Cousins With a Common Goal- Family.

A few weeks ago I sat within the stands of a high profile fall game showcasing the Batbusters and the Firecrackers. It’s pretty rare to see a game like this, especially this time of year, but what’s even more unique is seeing four members of the same family, competing together on the same field. Two on one side, two on the other.  Thessa Malau’ulu and Myah Iakopo for the Firecrackers, and Tiare Jennings and Zaida Puni for the Batbusters. Their interactions were playful and competitive but you had the sense that it was more meaningful, and it really is.

In the Polynesian culture, the family isn't just last names and tree branches, there is a deep sense of love and loyalty. Thessa, Tiare, Zaida, and Myah’s families lived close to each other but ironically their worlds collided on the rec ball field at about 5 years old. They connected through the “fun” of the game but the most impactful experience the girls faced together, was the unexpected passing of Tiare’s 5-month old brother, Kalaea, to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in 2007. Tiare and the girls were 6 years old at the time. The families came together in support of the Jennings family and through yearly Kalaea Christopher Jennings memorial festivities benefiting First Candle, an organization that honors babies lost to SIDS, the cousins began to form lifelong memories and a special bond resembling sisterhood.

A few short years later when Myah, Thessa, Tiare, and Zaida were almost 10 years old, the families saw some very obvious athletic potential in their little softballers and decided to test the travel waters. That year they joined their first 10u Firecracker team that would go on to win ASA Western Nationals and ASA Nationals in Kentucky. “The rest is history,” sounds like it could be an appropriate transition at this point but this story is far from reaching an end. Although it was apparent at a very young age that these ladies had a future in softball, if that’s the route they chose, the foundation of family-first was laid early and remained at the center of their very driven and successful journeys.

Myah, who was a year ahead of the others, had joined the older 10u Firecracker team for her first travel experience but after the year decided to hang up her cleats “for good.” Looking back she said, “Being the second youngest of seven children helped guide me with time management and my main focuses being God, Family and my education. Softball is just an extra-curricular activity that I so happened to love and enjoy.” However, Myah would eventually return to the field to re-join her older sister, Mary (at the time en-route to Oregon) where they would go on to win a high school championship together. Seeing the hard work and dedication Mary, her older brother, London (Louisville Football), and her parents, inspires Myah as she anxiously looks forward to new opportunities that will inevitably come her way in softball and life.

Following that one special 10u Firecracker season, Thessa decided to take a year off softball to pursue soccer full time. She returned the following year, joined a 12u Firecracker team, and remained committed to softball from then on. She currently plays on Firecrackers Rico/Weil along with Myah and says her hard work and dedication is a product of those she surrounds herself with, including her siblings and cousins. “My motivation is that there is always someone out there working harder/better than me. I use that mentality in the classroom as well.” This strong work ethic and dedication to family has been in her blood for a very long as Thessa’s father, George, started the Aiga Foundation and leads the long-standing Polynesian Football All-American Bowl as well as the Polynesian All-American Girls Softball camp which will be held this December 28-29 in Southern California. Giving back has been a staple in Thessa’s life and has kept her humble and grounded. Although she had several D1 offers has decided to stay close to home giving her verbal commitment to UCLA.

Zaida and Tiare went fast and steady down the softball track remaining Firecrackers for one more season before joining the Batbusters organization where they have been ever since. The young stars made waves early contending for championships year after year. One of Tiare’s fondest softball memories was winning six straight elimination games in the 2018 PGF Nationals to make it to the Championships. “Playing six games, with my best-friends was absolutely the best day of my life. I remember clearly each and every game we played that day and all the memories will hold a special place in my heart.” This incredible mindset also helps Zaida and Tiare pave the way for their younger sisters who are in the Batbusters organization (Mark Campbell), and both agree, their sisters are better at that age than they ever were. Talented, mature, and poised, Tiare gives all the praise to her family saying, “Without my family, I would be nowhere near who I am today. Each and every family member has shaped me into who I am today and always supported me through everything. I can’t thank them enough for all that they do for me.” Despite several persuasive offers, Tiare and Zaida have both committed to the University of Oklahoma.

With this amount of talent in one family, you should expect to be “regulars” at the biggest games in town, but watching six of your loved ones win a championship in one day? It happened. Two years ago Tiare, Zaida, Thessa, and Thessa’s older sister Chloe (now at Mississippi State) won the CIF Division 6 Championships with St. Anthony’s High School just hours before Myah and Mary won the CIF Division 1 Championship with Los Alamitos High School. This unforgettable experience is one of the most memorable to date but only one on a long list of past and future events that will no doubt bless this family with lifelong memories.

Over dinner, it didn’t take long to sense how special this family was. Four unique journeys running parallel but always finding ways to bring it back home. The way the girls are able to articulate the support they feel as they looked to each other to finish answers or share stories about growing up, high school life, future aspirations, and family dynamics is refreshing. They are truly a special group. Their love for one another is so authentic you’d almost forget they’re as good as it gets on the field as well. Now, that Tony Rico and Mike Stith have created BBFC Events, there is yet opportunity for these cousins to work alongside each other to share their love of the game to young Firecrackers and Batbusters. Different uniforms but the same team.

 

Fun Fact: Wondering how they’re related? Here is how Thessa describes the relationship to each of her cousins:

Zaida- We are related through our Tuiolosaga side (Grandma Lama). From the island of Olosega, Manu’a (Tutuila, American Samoa)

Myah- We are related through our Malau’ulu side (Grandpa Lai) from Fitiuta, Tau, American Samoa)

Tiare- We are related through marriage. Our Salima side to Tiare’s grandma (Uncle Nacio’s mom).

 


Allee Bunker: Freshman Life as an Oregon Duck

I had the pleasure of catching up with one of my favorite Firecracker alumnae, and new Oregon Duck, Allee Bunker.  Allee spent six years in the Firecracker organization under coach Mike Lutterloh (3 years), Sean Brashear (1 year), and Tony Rico (2 years). Allee committed to the University of Oregon as a sophomore and at that time becoming a Duck was, and still is, one of the hottest tickets in the country.  She arrived on campus just a few months ago and through dynamics of the coaching change and the demands of her new student-athlete life, Bunker remains on top of her game and thriving.

You found out that the Oregon coaching staff would be leaving just months before heading up to Eugene. What was your initial reaction to the news and how did you process through it?

Allee:  The day Mike White announced he was leaving Oregon, I had travelled up to Colorado for the summer tournament, and I saw the texts as soon as I got off the plane. Never once did I consider transferring after I heard the news, but I was very worried about the team’s reaction. My biggest fear was that we would lose a majority of the team once a new coach was named, but I was still committed to going to Oregon 100%. Honestly, I lost some sleep the first week because I still couldn’t believe that I was losing my coach after years of picturing myself playing for him. My teammates stayed in touch constantly reassuring everyone that the University would get the best possible person for the job, and this helped me get through the shock.

What was your feeling when you met your new coaching staff and what was the overall message to the team?

Allee:  Throughout the time where our softball program was coachless, we had been communicating through conference calls with various people from the University who were in charge of hiring a replacement. They kept telling us that it was a long process, but they would do everything in their power to get the best coach possible. I was very excited when I first heard that Coach Lombardi was going to be our coach because I knew that she has one of the best resumes and track records in softball. I knew that she had come to my travel games constantly because she knew the Firecrackers and Tony Rico very well. It was exciting to know that I had a new coach that wasn’t unknown to me. I met Coach Lombardi over the summer during PGF and immediately loved her, and when I came to school in late August I met the rest of the staff as well. It was reassuring that three out of four of my coaches are familiar with the Firecracker organization, and I have really enjoyed playing for them. 

The overall message to the team initially was that the coaches knew how unexpected the change was to the upperclassmen and expressed that we need to trust each other in order to be successful. The coaching staff has been very patient with us and reassured us that they knew it was going to take time to adjust to the change. 

Oregon has been in the top of the polls and WCWS contenders for the past several years, what is your mentality going into a program like that? (In terms of expectations for the season, competing for a spot, etc.)

Allee:  Before coming to Oregon, I had always been nervous to play on the team because the program has very high expectations. Though I was also excited, I always knew that it would be a mentally and physically tough environment. I knew then and now that I needed to show 100% effort every time I stepped on the field, and that they would not take it easy on me just because I was a freshman. The new coaching staff made the transition a little easier than I thought because everyone was in the same situation I was as a freshman. Everyone had to adapt to a different practice and game environment, and this transition was smoother than I expected. 

For the most part, the team is very young, but we have very good experience from our upperclassmen. My teammates have made it very clear that despite how young our team is, we will not show it during season. We have the highest expectations for the program and know that the only thing standing in our way is ourselves. 

How have you been able to balance your school/softball load?

Allee:  Balancing school and softball has been very difficult, but it feels like it gets easier as the weeks go by. The toughest part for me about softball would be waking up for 6 or 6:30 workouts almost every week day. It is hard to pay full attention in class because of how tiring it is in the mornings, but it is not impossible to get through. 

 What has been the toughest adjustment for you?

Allee:  I think the toughest adjustment for me so far has been the amount of practice every day. It is tough to wake up at 5:30 every morning and have a three-hour practice in the afternoon. My body has been very tired, but the coaches are good about giving us rest time when we need it. The work load for school is pretty big, but it has not been too difficult to keep up with. I have been told that our preseason and season schedules are very busy, and that the fall should be the easiest part of the school year. I am excited for season and ready to face any challenges thrown at me whether in school or softball. 

Can you give us a glimpse into a typical day in the life of Allee Bunker?

Allee:  A typical day for me would start by getting up in the morning for workouts, where we would do conditioning or weights or both. Then, I get breakfast at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex which is a building next to the weight room and football stadium. If I have time, I will get a ride back to the dorms and change into clothes for class. My classes go 8:30-12:50 almost every day, and I will go grab lunch and head to the fields for practice. I have tutoring in the evenings after practice at different times every day. The rest of the night, I eat and finish my homework. 

How did your family (parents) help prepare you for life away from home?

Allee:  My parents have been a huge part of what helped me transition to college. They always let me be pretty independent ever since I got my driver’s license. I was able to drive myself to school, practice, and games for the past two years. Also, I have travelled alone to many out of state softball tournaments, and this has helped me learn how to be on my own in an unfamiliar environment. I believe the morals and values that I have grown up with my whole life has helped me create new friendships and transition well into college life.

 You've been on campus now for a few months, what advice would you give incoming freshmen on making the transition?

Allee:  If I could give advice to incoming freshman, I would tell them many things for both school and for softball. For school, staying on top of work and doing assignments in advance is very important. You never want to wait until the last night to do something because it will be hard to stay motivated to do a good job on the assignment when you’re up late. There are many pieces of advice I could give for the softball side, but I believe the most important is to listen and to take in as much as you can. Freshmen are constantly told to do “freshmen duties,” and though this is annoying at times, make sure to always do it with a good attitude. Your coaches and teammates will notice your hard work and take it into consideration when writing the lineup. Also, it will be overwhelming to learn so much in such a short time, so take it in and do the best you can to learn new ways of playing the game. One of the best qualities you can have as an athlete is being coachable, and your coaches will respect you because of the effort you make to learn what they teach you. 

 

Written By: Amanda Freed Katchka
@amandafreed7

 

 


Firecrackers USA Team Heading Back to Cuba in 2018

After a successful ground-breaking trip in 2017, Firecrackers will be sending another team out to Havana, Cuba this summer for the 2nd COPA Amistad Tournament and 16u/18u Multi-Cultural experience.

For complete information on how to be a part of this unforgettable adventure, visit the link below:

Firecrackers- 2nd COPA Amistad Tournament and Multi-Cultural Experience Summer of 2018


Cherish The Moments With Your Daughter: by Melissa Roth

We feel this is an important read for parents. Especially now, given the recent tragedies. We see a lot of ambition to get the scholarship and win big games, and Melissa has done it all, but she has a clear message for our families. Are you creating lifetime memories outside of softball with your daughters? I hope you can appreciate her perspective.
-Tony Rico

                                          -----------------------------------------------------

For many years I was always referred to as “the one who played softball.” Lately I am “the girl who travels around the world.” Both statements are parts of me, but what makes me who I am, most people wouldn’t know.

I am the child who grew up watching her father play men’s fast pitch, dreaming of the day I could finally take the field with him.  I am the child whose mother took her on spontaneous trips to Canada, Hawaii and other places across the United States.

In two sentences I have shown you the path to the woman I would eventually become.  It is my parents who shaped me to be exactly the woman I am today.  And it is my parents who gave me memories other than playing on a softball field.

As your child grows up you never know what memories they keep with them and which moments they will cherish.  But I ask this, are you giving your kids something to remember WITH you or are you just giving them moments where you are simply present but not involved?

My favorite memories come from moments spent with my parents that have absolutely NOTHING to do with me playing a softball game.

I had the pleasure of spending a ton of quality time with my father a couple days ago and I had a realization.  If anyone knows me they know he is one of my biggest heroes in life. My father is the entire reason WHY I began and continued to play softball. All I wanted to do was grow up and be just like my dad. Every Friday night during the summer he would play in a men’s league and it was the best night of the week.  I would get to watch him catch and he would occasionally let me come sit in the dugout. It was the most exciting night ever, even though I would never stay there the entire game because I was running around the park.  After every game we would always end up going to the pizza parlor where I would beg my dad for quarters to get every fake tattoo and bouncing rubber ball I could.  All of this was topped off by him taking me next door to Thrifty’s to get ice cream where I would get a triple scoop of rocky road, rainbow sherbet, and pistachio nut.  Usually the night ended up with me falling asleep on some bench or in some booth back at the pizza place.  Now, to some this doesn’t sound like much, but to me those were the best days of my life.

While recently spending these couple of days with my dad we got to talking about many things from the past.  We talked about the road trips we took up to Sacramento, the concerts we went to in Las Vegas and San Diego, my dad’s 40th birthday party, all the New Years and block parties we had, and finally all the family trips we took down to Carlsbad.  I will tell you this, there are rarely stories from the past that talk about me playing softball but there are stories about every other thing you could possibly imagine.

I want people to know I come from a divorced household that was not always great. BUT what is great are all the things that came before, that I haven’t forgotten, and all the things that would eventually come after.

Here are some memories that come before. I grew up near a park and Thursday nights during the summer they would have “Picnic in the Park” where either a band would play or a movie was shown.  This would be our night to grab some KFC and go out and watch whatever was playing.  Now I cannot say that I remember who or what was playing but what I can say is that I remember that time spent as a family.

Another memory was at our block party. My family and our neighbors got together, closed down the street and hired a band to come play for everyone.  I can never forget this band, it was the Elm Street Band.  They were phenomenal.  Always playing the best oldies that everyone loved to dance to.  My father was always my favorite dance partner and still is to this day.  He would spin me around the floor and let me bounce all over the place. What more could a girl ask for?

By now you’re probably thinking, “She spent a lot of time with her father but what about her mother?”  The memories of my mother and me are very different than the ones of my father and me, but they are amazing in their own way.

Let me tell you, my mom was the best when I was a little girl.  One weekend when I was in first grade she told me I was going to miss school on a Friday and she took me to Hawaii for the weekend, just a girl’s trip.  How awesome is that!? What I remember from that trip will probably make you laugh.  I don’t remember the beaches or anything like that. What I do remember is sitting next to my mom on the plane and drinking some kind of fruit drink with a flower in it.  That is literally all I remember and I have never forgotten the feeling of thinking I had the greatest mother in the world. It was almost a feeling of royalty to be able to sit next to her and have my fruit drink.

Many times growing up my mom would dance around the house with me singing whatever music I chose to play. She didn’t always know the words so she would make them up and I would laugh uncontrollably, an inheritable trait I might add. She was also the person who turned every softball tournament into an experience. She took me to Memphis to see where “the King” left his mark, Atlanta’s Underground Railroad, the Space Needle and Mount Rainier in Seattle, and walked with me across the suspension bridge in Canada. My mother made it so much more than softball. I cannot even tell you how we finished in whatever tournament we played in, but again, what I can tell you is about all the beautiful places she showed me. Maybe she knew at the time I didn’t fully appreciate it but knew later I wouldn’t forget it. And she was right. Thanks, Mom.

One thing that was really special for me was being able to watch my mom walk at her college graduation in 2000. While I was spending a lot of time with my dad as child, my mom was working full time and going to school at night so this was a very proud moment for her and, being her daughter, I couldn’t have been more inspired.

I could go on and on about my family, especially with having four brothers and all the memories I shared with them.  Whenever we get together I love to hear stories about how things were for them when they grew up and memories they have.

This is what I wanted to share with all of you.  I know sometimes we get caught up in our world of softball and it seems so important.  There is another perspective and it is something I wish to enlighten everyone with.

One day this game is going to end for your daughter, whether on good terms or bad terms.  It will end. These are just a few of the memories that will stick with them forever but it will be the TIME they got to spend with you that will matter the most.

It is not to say that softball isn’t a big part of my life, it is. However, when I look back, I had an amazing childhood and parents who took the time to be with me so I was able to build these memories I can cherish and appreciate. I am happy my parents involved me in the things they liked to do such as having barbecues with friends, bowling in a Sunday league, or going to the river.  Their lives did not revolve around mine and because of this I was able to see my parents, watch them, and experience life with them.

This realization came from driving around, going to work with my dad (something I still LOVE to do) and talking to him about all the things I remembered as a kid. As a result he asked me to go through old photos that my mother had kept.  It was the best thing he could have asked me to do because it reminded me of all those moments. I was able to smile and fully appreciate them 20-25 years later.  It was also wonderful to see the story of my parents and how they changed over the years, along with myself. Even though their story together ended, it was and is great to see how we have all evolved yet still remain very much the same.

Thank you to both my mother and my father for sharing these beautiful times with me.  My hope for all is that we keep everything in perspective and realize that TIME is the most valuable thing.  I will never forget the times I played catch with my father or danced around the house with my mother.  These moments are forever invaluable.

So, I ask what kind of memories are you really making with your daughters?

-Melissa Roth

 

 


Breaking Barriers in Cuba!

The first ever travel team to venture over to Cuba has returned home heavily inspired! Coach Manny Travieso, and the Firecrackers USA Team set out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure this past July and the journey did not disappoint! Read the journal entries below documenting the day by day events from the time they hit Cuban soil to the time spent on the field with new friends.

********************

Day by Day Firecrackers vs Cuba “Copa Amistad” 2017

 Traveling to the forbidden Island of Cuba was an exciting thought to contemplate last July. I knew this would come with many challenges for me as the head coach wanting to take the 1st USA travel softball team to Cuba which could potentially be a once in a life time opportunity. However, with the support of Tony Rico and the Firecrackers softball community I was able to make this happen. Having played against both Junior and National Olympic softball teams was a dream not many softball players can say happened to them!

 Day to Cuba

Saturday July 22, the Firecrackers USA team got together to practice for the 1st time at the Firecrackers Media City Softball Field in Burbank, CA. This was a meet and greet for the players and their families. The players had a chance to take pictures and videos for the media and were interviewed for news spots on NBC and Telemundo. Having players from different states made it difficult for the team to practice together before the trip. It was exciting to see these amazing athletes come together as a team within hours of seeing each other. 

 The morning started with an unexpected surprise. The entire team got around to receive their uniforms and gifts as the USA Firecrackers Team. Each player received a new bat and glove from Easton, 3 new uniforms from the Firecrackers Organization and Play with Honor, 2 sets of pants and 3 headbands from The Gluv and new nets from Jugs. They also received 2 sets of Firecrackers T-shirts with their names and the USA and Cuban flags from MundoFlix.com

  After all the excitement of the media, videos, pictures and gifts, Coach Tim Humble and Head Coach Manny Travieso worked with the players on a 4 hour practice. It was clear from the beginning that these players had something in common. They were talented, athletic, and demonstrated a tremendous team work attitude.  Following practice, the team and their parents headed to have lunch and said goodbye until the next morning.

 Day 1 of 6 Cuba

 Sunday July 23, the team met at LAX at 6 am to get ready to board Alaska Airlines, nonstop flight to Havana Cuba, which departed after 8 am. As we were ready to take off, the flight captain congratulated the team for being the first softball travel team from the USA to travel and play in Cuba.  This was the time when parents and players alike realized that this was actually happening!!  

 Once we landed in Cuba and looked at the scenery, this trip became 100% more real, the size of the airport, scenery, old structures and of course the humid, hot weather. Passing through customs before retrieving our luggage we were surprised at the calmness and minimal police and armed forces. Everyone was extremely welcoming and had big smiles on their faces. 

 As we exited the airport, we were greeted by a big air conditioned charter bus which became the players, coaches and parents’ mode of transportation while on the island.  Parents were overly happy and excited to see old antique and Russian cars driving around them. As we drove in the charter bus to our hotel, there were very few cars on the road. We saw many billboards about communism and about how great communism is for people. Signage about the embargo was seen everywhere and called it the greatest genocide in the history of humanity. We were reminded by our travel agent that we were on foreign soil and had to respect their political views.

 Our hotel, The Hotel Nacional, was about 30 minutes from the airport. It was majestic and it is reported to be the biggest and best hotel in Cuba. There is a lot of history in this hotel from Hollywood elite stars and famous figures that had previously stayed there. This was rapidly seen through pictures displayed throughout the hotel walls. The hotel structure is old but all our rooms were clean, air conditioned, and had tv and wifi as well as a beautiful view of the beach. Our travel agent had money to exchange for us. In Cuba there are 2 different kinds of currency, the national currency which is not worth much and the CUC, which is exchanged at a higher rate. 

 After we all checked in, we met at the buffet restaurant for dinner and discussed our schedule for the next 5 days.  Most parents and players, although very tired, went for walks around the hotel premises that night. They all followed the sound of Salsa music till they got to a concert in the park very close to the hotel.  There was dancing, food and drinks. Despite not having any police presence, the atmosphere was calm, happy and fun. That night we learned that the young people in Cuba don’t have much to do, besides hanging in groups, dancing and spending time with each other. Most housing areas don’t have cable TV, Internet, Movie Theaters, etc…

 Day 2 of 6 Cuba

 Monday July 24th, we had our first 2 games planned back to back. One would be with the Jr. Olympic Team and the 2ndgame would be against the National Olympic Team. We arrived to a building and complex that looked abandoned.  It was old and had lost most of its paint. We later learned that this complex was used to host the Pan-American games in 1991, which was most likely the last time this building was painted and taken care of. 

 We walked in as a team through this building to get to the softball field. As we got closer we noticed that people lived there and we were told that this is the place where the top athletes of the country live and practice. The field looked nice, although it was old.  The bases were old and loose and coming apart. The nets used for batting practice were basically iron rods with fishnets on them.

 We played against the Jr. Olympic team first and did very well beating them 8-1. As the National Team looked on, it was their turn. We got mercied as expected. These women were very good. Their ages ranged from 22-38 year of age against our 14-18 year olds. Our team NEVER GAVE UP and left a very nice impression on the opposite team as head coach Luisa Medina said later in an interview “We were impressed with the never give up attitude of the USA players no matter what the score was”.

 On our way back to the hotel, the players could not stop talking about how exciting it was to be there and play these teams. They found out that the ages of the Cuban Jr. Olympic team were between 14-19 years old and the Cuban National ages ranged from 22-38! Our players also noticed that most players did not have cleats. They would wear soccer shoes or just plain old tennis shoes. They also only had 4 helmets and 2 bats that they would share among themselves. This was the condition in which these players practiced. It started to sink for many of us that we were no longer in the USA; we were in a different world where most of our daily necessities are seen as luxuries for the Cuban people.

 Day 3 of 6 Cuba

 Tuesday July 25th , just like the day before, we were set to play 2 games, but this time, we would mix and match players from both the USA and Cuban teams. First, we mix and matched our team with the Jr. Olympic team. They gave us 7 players and we gave them 5. The game was a lot closer but the team that Asst. Coach Tim and Head Coach Manny were coaching, beat the Cuban mixed team.  We did the same thing with the National Team on the second game.

 To be able to see the players from Cuba and the US play on the same side was priceless. At the beginning of the game, you could see the USA players on one side of the dugout and the Cuban players on the other side.  However, as the game went on, the players came together as a team, even if they were from different worlds and spoke a different languages. They were using the international language of softball to communicate plays and the game with each other. The game was close but, again, the team that Coach Tim and Coach Manny coached won.  Although the weather was hot and humid, they all played well and handled themselves professionally as expected. 

After the games, all players from both USA and Cuba spent time together talking via interpreters, exchanging jerseys, headbands and visors. We learned their ages, education, and passion for the sport and their unconditional love for their country.

 As we drove back to the hotel, it definitively became apparent by the parents and players conversations what an experience this was. Everyone understood the enormous privilege it was to be able to play and mingle with these athletes.

Day 4 of 6 Cuba

Wednesday July 26th , on this date each year, Cubans celebrate, the National Revolutionary Day in Cuba. This day celebrates the day in 1953 when a band of rebels led by Fidel Castro attacked military barracks in Santiago de Cuba in order to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista. This day is not celebrated by Cubans in the US as it marks the beginning of the communist party in Cuba. 

 Since this is recognized as a national holiday and most events and places are closed, we decided to head to Varadero Beach in Matanzas. This beach is world known for its beauty, crystal clear water and its Caribbean warmth. The 2 hour bus drive was worth it as we were able to see a bit more of the island.

 We spent the early part of the day at the beach. We ate lunch at the beach and if this was a team and family bonding, I would put it as the best team bonding in the history of team bonding. Coach Tim Humble rented a paddle boat for the girls and they had a great time taking turns using the boat. To top the day off, the players lined themselves in the ocean and created the “F” sign for Firecrackers

 After the beach, we headed back to the hotel to change and get ready for an evening tour in Old Havana.  Although it was a holiday, some shops were open, like the famous Bodeguita Del Medio, were the famous Mojito was born and frequented by Ernest Hemingway. We saw amazing architecture and its history kept the entire team and their families captivated. This tour capped the great “holiday” day off from softball. 

 Day 5 of 6 Cuba

 Thursday July 27th , as planned, we played our last game against the National team in the morning. Unlike our first time facing them, we played them a lot closer this time around. We held them to 0 runs for the first 3 innings. After a few bad breaks and timely hitting, the national team went ahead 5-0, and later built on that lead and beat us 11-0. Again, just like the first time we played them, our players were always in the game, fighting till the end. The experience to have played and lost to the actual team that will be playing in the Olympics in 2020 was definitively an experience on its own.

After a short break, we had a combine practice with the national team and their head coach Luisa Medina. Luisa Medina was the first Cuban player to be inducted into the hall of fame of the international softball federation. After the combine, players exchanged jerseys and ALL our firecracker players left their gear, gloves, shoes, etc there. It was a great deed to experience this exchange of friendship, softball and the love for the game! One of our players, Dana Ebesaid said, “it’s so easy for us to go out to the store and get whatever we need or want and these players do not have that luxury”. The Firecrackers USA head coach, Manny Travieso left all his gear there along with all donated items from the Firecrackers Org. Jugs and Easton. “They were so happy to get the gear. It felt like Christmas in July for them” Coach Manny said.

Although, The Cuban players did not have much, they gave all our girls a gift bag with a few goodies from their country. What most impressed us is that they kept stats on our team and surprised us with some medals. These medals where old and used which added more value to the situation. Haley Gatica  got a medal for best pitcher, Brianna Heaviside got a medal for most hits and Lillyanna Travieso would have gotten a medal for best glove, but they only had 2 medals to give. They also wanted to recognize the coaching staff for our work there and wanted to give a medal to Coach Tim Humble and Head coach Manny Travieso. Their intentions were there and we were very thankful for their kind effort. 

 After hugs and good byes, we got back to the hotel and got ready for our last night out. The travel agent had planned a dinner outside the hotel in a well-known restaurant in Havana named La Roca. To our surprise we were picked up at the hotel by 7 convertible classic cars. Every player and parent had huge smiles on their faces as if Santa Claus had come to see us. This definitively was an amazing way to celebrate this amazing week and final night in Cuba. For an entire hour, we toured around Havana in these classic convertible cars.  The team and parents had smiles from ear to ear the entire night!

 Day 6 of 6 Cuba

 Friday July 28th , after an amazing week in Havana, we woke up, had breakfast for the last time in the hotel, checked out and took the bus to old Havana one last time to buy souvenirs. On our way, we stopped at El Moro, where the famous lighthouse is. To our surprise, while waiting for El Morro to be opened to the public, we bumped into the professional Havana baseball team Los Industriales. They were waiting to get recognized for their season. The girls came out and were happy to take a picture with them. Los Industriales are compared to the NY Yankees of Cuba. This is where famous Cuban MLB players come from. Some parents exchanged hats and even bought hats off their players. After this brief encounter, the tour guide took us to a flea market place where we bought souvenirs.

We got back in our amazing bus one last time and headed to the airport to wait for our plane and headed back to the US. While we waited for our flight, we got wifi access and everyone check their emails and texts. Coach Manny was surprise to see a tweet from Comedian Rob Schneider acknowledging this Firecracker USA team for their historic trip to Cuba. In return, the girls wrote a note thanking Rob for the tweet before we boarded the plane.

******************** 

UP NEXT: Firecrackers USA Team take on Columbia! Stay tuned for details!


Firecrackers Heading to Havana, Cuba!

The Firecrackers will make history this summer as the first ever travel team to compete in Cuba as part of the Softball Multi-Cultural and Exhibition Tournament to be held July 23-28 in Havana, Cuba.

This is a dream in the making for Media City Firecrackers head coach, Manny Travieso, who will be leading this once-in-a-lifetime experience along with his staff. Travieso's father was born in Cuba, however communism drove his family out of the country. Born in Puerto Rico, Travieso came to the United States when he was 15-years-old but has always held Cuba close to his heart. When he saw that MLB played in Cuba last year he saw it as an opportunity to begin some dialog and found an amazing travel agent who reached out to Cuba Deportes on his behalf. She spoke of Travieso's passion for the sport, his involvement with the Firecrackers organization, and desire for these athletes to be part of this unique multicultural experience. A few months later he was contacted by Cuba Deportes and invited to take the team in July. As Travieso states, "The rest will be history."

When Travieso entered the U.S. in 1990 he didn't speak a word of English. Thanks to his love for the game he was able to fit right in with his high school teammates by speaking a common language; baseball. Another reason Travieso finds so much value in the trip, "None of the girls we will play against and hang out with from Cuba will speak ANY English, but I believe our girls will have the same experience. They will be able to communicate and understand each other because of the universal softball language."

Finally, when asked what he's most looking forward to, Travieso responded with this: "I'm looking forward to playing the Cuban National team. This team will be the same team that could play in the 2020 Olympics. It's a unique opportunity to say you played against this team and you played them in CUBA! Also, the experience these Firecracker girls will have from the stand point of culture and the new friendships they will have when it's all said and done, will be priceless."

Below is the list of players committed to play at the Multi-Cultural and Exhibition Tournament this summer:

Dana Ebe - 2017 - Firecrackers Gutierrez, WA  "I am most excited about seeing the Cuban culture including lifestyles, food, people, and scenery. I am also very grateful for having this once in a lifetime opportunity to play softball in this unique country."

 

 

Brianna Heaviside – 2017 – Firecrackers Hernandez/Ensey, CA

 

 

 

Savannah Pinedo – 2018 – Firecrackers Barry, CA

 

 

 

Anais Salinas – 2018 – Firecrackers Media City, CA  "I am most excited about being able to play against a very good and competitive team. I have never traveled out of the country for softball and I'm so excited about being able to create new experiences and memories on the field as well as off. I'm ready to have fun and play hard."

Haley Gatica – 2019 – Firecrackers Hagberg, IA  "I am excited to go to Cuba to play the game I love! It is going to be a once in a lifetime experience and I am beyond blessed to have this opportunity! What makes it super cool is that most people cannot travel to Cuba and that Cuba is not very modernized so it will be like going back in time which will be exciting to see! I have traveled to several countries as well, such as my dad's home country Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. I was lucky enough to be invited to play softball in Argentina where I got to play with, and against their national softball team which was also a very cool experience! It will also be cool to play in an atmosphere that is filled with my culture that I may not see in Iowa."

 

Ameryn Humble – 2020 – Firecrackers Humble, CA

 

 

 

Lillyanna Travieso – 2020 – Firecrackers Media City, CA

 

 

Cate Ziegler – 2020 – Firecrackers Media City, CA

 

 

Rachel Allen – 2021 – Firecracers TJ, CA  "I am most excited to be an ambassador of the US, Softball and the Firecracker Organization to a country that was once forbidden to enter.  I am super excited to experience and learn about the Cuban culture, customs, and softball while building bonds of friendship with their young women athletes.  I believe this experience will be life changing. I believe my eyes will be opened larger than ever, experiencing this new part of the world.  My hope is to gain increased knowledge, understanding and compassion."

 

Tolly Locket – 2021 – Firecrackers, AZ

 

 

 

 

Manny Travieso- Head Coach – Firecrackers Media City, CA

 

 

 

Tim Humble – Asst Head Coach – Firecrackers Humble, CA

 

 


Firecrackers Colorado-Gale Wins Wounded Warrior Tournament

The Firecrackers Gale 14U was at it again, playing up in a 16U Open and this time coming away with the championship. These girls fought hard and long on Saturday and Sunday going 7-0 on the weekend. The pitching and hitting was quite a sight to see. What also made this special was that this tournament was a benefit for the wounded warriors. It hits home with our organization as we strive to "Play With Honor" and never forget what those have sacrificed for us. Great job Firecrackers.


Meet Firecrackers Ryono

Building a healthy Firecracker culture is the most important thing for each FC team to establish. We teach our teams that a great team performance and experience comes as a result of an environment that people want to be part of and thrive in.  Once that foundation of great energy and happiness is built, everything else seems to fall into place.

Currently there is no better example of this culture than our own Firecrackers Ryono, a fourteen and under team based out of Southern California, who just came aboard this past fall. The success that this team has experienced so far includes winning four out of five tournament championships, with the most prestigious win earning them a paid berth and spot in the coveted Colorado Fireworks Power Pool. What's unique about this group when you compare it to most other winning teams, is that they are extremely humble and supportive of each other, from their head coach Don Ryono, all the way down their entire roster. Grace and humility are hard to find in a lot of winning teams.

Listen to this podcast that Coach Tony did with a few of the girls from FC Ryono last fall and hear what we are talking about when we describe a humble, winning team. It's something that can be obtained by everyone!

[buzzsprout episode='370454' player='true']

[thb_image full_width="true" image="2405"]