World Series Memories: Puerto Rico players return to Taylor as coaches and player's dad

Three of the most excited members of the Yabucoa, Puerto Rico contingent in Taylor for the Junior League World Series are too old to be playing for the team.

But all three have fond memories of the years they represented their country in the World Series.

Jose Reyes played in the series in Taylor in 1986. One of his teammates was his cousin, Alex Reyes.

Ten years later, in 1996, Oscar Villaneuva represented his country in Taylor.

This year, Alex’s son Alex Jr. is a second baseman for Yabucoa. And Uncle Jose and Villaneuva are the 2011 team’s coaches.

This is the 22nd year that a team from Puerto Rico has played in the Junior League World Series – and Yabucoa has as strong a baseball history as any city in the Latin America country. Teams from Yabucoa have played in Taylor eight years. The 1990 Yabucoa team won the World Series.

For many years, the World Series was limited to 13-year-olds and they stayed with host families rather than hotels. Both were the case in 1986 and 1996.

The 1986 team had success – winning three of five games. But the Reyes cousins and their teammates settled for third place when they lost, 9-7, to USA Central champion Athens, Ohio, which went on to lose the world championship to Waldorf, Maryland.

The Reyes cousins typically covered the left side of the infield, with Jose playing shortstop and Alex playing third. Both remember batting over. 300 in the ’86 World Series. They also pitched and Jose sometimes played second base. In fact, Jose’s biggest thrill was being the pitcher of record in a win over Mexico.

The 1996 Yabucoa boys went 1-2, earning a win over New Jersey sandwiched between losses to Texas and Indiana.

But playing in a world tournament isn’t only about winning and losing. With help of an interpreter – Edgar Martinez, vice president of the Juan A. Bibiloni Little League – all three alumni players reminisced about their years in baseball, their fond memories of the World Series and the positive changes they have seen in the city.

“The place is much better – it’s beautiful,” said Alex Reyes, who went on to become a sergeant in the highway patrol in Puerto Rico. “It’s a beautiful area with beautiful people. The park is better. I took a picture of the park.”

Alex, now 38 years old, said he and his cousin had fun times with their host family and wanted to say “hello” and “thank you.”

Ales is so proud of his time in the World Series that he brought his 1986 participation medal, saying he and his teammates had many “unforgettable moments.” He said he was “excited” to be back in Taylor – and is especially excited for his son, an infielder and pitcher who typically bats over .500.

Cousin Jose said he remembered all of the attention the players received from the organizing committee and the local fans. He said he was proud to represent his country, especially in the big win over Mexico.

These days, Jose and his father own a company that operates heavy equipment.

Villaneuva, a first baseman and catcher during his playing days, remembers have fun with his teammates in 1996. This year, he brought his ’96 World Series baseball cap with him to Taylor.

“I was a player for the 1996 team when I was 13 years old,” said Villaneuva, now 28. “I came here to Taylor and 15 years later I came back as a coach.”

Villaneuva went on to become a physical education teacher in Yabucoa. Like 1996, he and the current Puerto Rico unit were “looking forward to being here. We are looking forward to having a good time.”

The Reyes cousins and Villaneuva are not the only three members of the Puerto Rican contingent with great baseball memories.

League Vice President Martinez played college baseball at North Central Texas in Gainesville, earning all-conference recognition in 1993 and 1994, before serving in the Army. He now coaches ball in a semipro league and participates in a form of karate, where he has won championships.

League President Luis Aponte, who also is in Taylor with the 2011 team, coached in the 1999 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He also took a team of 11-year-olds to a national title in 2003 and a team of 15- and 16-year-olds to a national title in 2007.

Like the Reyes cousins and Villaneuva, Martinez and Aponte said they were proud to start playing baseball as youngsters and came through the ranks of the same Little League organization.

Aponte said one of his goals is to build the league and make it stronger. Currently, there are 800 players on 48 teams.

“It’s important to keep the standards of the league high,” Aponte said. “When you get the position of being president, you want big standards. You can’t let the league go down.”