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Baseball, softball teams from South Tampa land in Junior League World Series

TAMPA

Talk about a power couple. She plays softball. He plays baseball.

Sydney Socher, 15, and her boyfriend, Carter Leslie, 14, are both catchers. Their teams both play at a park in Palma Ceia.

And, early Friday, both of them hopped on airplanes — she to Kirkland, Wash., and he to Taylor, Mich. — to play the most important games of their young lives.

They, and their respective teammates, have all made it to the Junior League World Series.

Two teams from the same park each won district and won state and won the Southeast Regional and are about to play against teams from around the globe.

If they keep winning, they could be the first ever pair of teams from the same ballpark to take home victories from the Junior League World Series.

"It's surreal. It's an amazing accomplishment," said Mark Sakalosky, president of Palma Ceia Little League. "It's a credit to the families at Palma Ceia Little League and how committed they are to their kids."

They're not the only teams from Tampa Bay to have done well.

A team of 11-year-old boys from North Tampa won the Pony Bronco World Series in Virginia last month. Teams from the Wellswood area and Plant City have dominated state and regional competitions. New Tampa made it to the Little League's Southeast Region tournament before falling Friday to a team from Warner Robins, Ga.

It is particularly exciting, though, that two teams from the same place could both go this far, supporters say.

The baseball team includes boys from Palma Ceia and Bayshore, while the softball team has players from Palma Ceia and West Tampa. Players in the Junior League World Series are between 13 and 15 — slightly older than Little League.

Sydney has been swinging a bat since she was too young to remember. She got her start playing boys T-ball.

Her mother, Mindy Socher, has been cheering the whole time.

"It's so stressful," she said about watching her daughter from the sidelines. "If she's on, she's on." But when Sydney struggles, her mom finds it hard to watch.

Many of the parents, like the players, entertain superstitions. If the team is losing, the parents will change their seats — hoping to help shift the game's momentum.

This isn't Sydney's first time making a run at the World Series. Two years ago, her team tried and didn't make it.

"It was crushing," her mom said.

But this year the team regrouped and, for the first time, Sydney is going to play against teams from all over the world.

Thursday, the girl's softball team held a fundraiser at Beef 'O' Brady's in Palma Ceia. And the boys and their parents were there to show support.

Carter, the boys catcher, sat a few tables away from Sydney with his World Series-bound team.

A question about whether he practices with his girlfriend brought jeering from his teammates.

At the table, the boys talk about past great plays and having faith in the team. They talked about the competition they'll face.

"We're just thinking everyone is going to be good," Carter said.

They say they're going to treat the World Series like just another game. Before the game, the team will stretch and warm up, said Ben Randall, 15. Nothing crazy.

A few tables away, his mom sits in Beef 'O' Brady's with another mother. They've invested their lives in the game, too.

"We've got to keep the white pants white," Jill Randall said.

Besides finding the best way to keep uniforms in top condition, the parents are a mobile and dedicated group of fans. They bring along lawn chairs and tents.

One parent sends text message blasts to those who couldn't come to the games.

"We're a well-oiled machine," Jill Randall said.

Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or enewcomer@sptimes.com.

Baseball, softball teams from South Tampa land in Junior League World Series 08/13/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 10:46pm]
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