Plenty of Little League players in Miami — let alone those across America — have spent years longing to play baseball for a college program like the four-time national champion Miami Hurricanes, though only a small handful end up doing just that.
But then there are some who have already been competing together prior to first stepping foot on the corner of San Amaro Drive and Ponce de Leon Boulevard and living out such dream.
And for freshman starting arms Alejandro Rosario and Victor Mederos, that’s been the case this season inside Mark Light Field.
“Me and Victor, we’ve been playing together since, I would say, summer ball of eighth grade, so we’ve been friends a long time,” Rosario said.
The two right-handed aces, in fact, have already been accustomed to taking the same mound long before a scholarship to UM awaited them inside their mailboxes.
“Me and Alejandro have been playing for quite a long time now,” Mederos said. “He actually came and played for the Banditos, which was a travel ball team that we played for. He played a tournament with us and from there on, you know, we kept on communicating and we kept on having a relationship.”
Such a unique opportunity opened the door for what would become quite the culminated pitching duo, given their shared work ethic and camaraderie.
“You know, I’ve gotten to know him not just as a baseball player but as a person,” Mederos said. “I think he’s a very hard-working kid, he brings a lot to the table. Everybody knows him for his velocity, but I think that now, more than in high school, his velocity comes into play because now he spots wherever he wants to put the ball, and he’s gotten way more mature with his pitching.”
“He’s a tough guy to hit off of,” Rosario admitted with a smile. “If I was a hitter, I wouldn’t like to face him. He throws a lot of pitches, a lot of good off-speed, and he throws hard.”
Though when the two Miami natives lace up their black and orange cleats and toe the rubber, the shared meals, text messages, and smiles stay off the diamond.
“We always like to compete,” Rosario said. “He gets the best out of me and I get the best out of him, and we just give feedback to each other.”
Mederos nodded in agreement himself, knowing that the constant edge that has lingered between them fuels their passion for competing at a place like UM.
“We always compete, and I think that’s the relationship that, you know, we always want to have,” Mederos said. “We’re both going for each other’s jobs but at the same time, we are friends out of the field, and we hang out; we do everything together.”
And witnessing those soaring intensity levels daily has been none other than the team’s third-year skipper in head coach Gino DiMare. Both pitchers have experienced their shares of success and adversity to grow as leaders through barely 25 games.
“From where I stand, it’s a competitive but a very respectful and good relationship,” DiMare said. “I think with both of them probably, if I had to guess, it’s competitive. I mean, you’re talking about two top players in the country last year that are here in our backyard coming out of high school end up showing up on our campus, and I think it’s great for [them] because they’re probably going to push each other and make each other better while they’re here.”
Making the short journey down the road to Coral Gables, Rosario and Mederos realized it would be one of a lifetime come late winter upon the announcement of a brand-new starting rotation for 2021. UM’s three-headed monster in Brian Van Belle, Chris McMahon, and Slade Cecconi all set sail for their new MLB homes back in June.
“She cried,” said Rosario when asked about his mother’s reaction to him being names one of Miami’s starting pitchers. The graduate of Miami Christian School has posted a 3-1 record this season while maintaining an ERA of 4.15 — the lowest of any Hurricanes starter this year.
“We ended up getting the news right after our scrimmage,” added Mederos, who has instead fell to 1-3 through eight starts. “J.D. and Gino called us in one by one, all the starters. You know I was very blessed to have this opportunity of working really hard, I’ve been working really hard. Everything they told me to fix, everything that they told me that wanted to see, and I was able to bring it to the table. I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.”
The road became somewhat turbulent concerning their performances out of the gates, nonetheless. Both shared a first taste of adversity in the college setting at Florida Ballpark against unanimous No. 1 ranked Florida.
“I think both [Mederos] and Alejandro Rosario, our two freshmen, really did a solid job,” DiMare said after the series win, Miami’s first since 2014. “They’re only going to get better coming out of a performance and experience like this weekend here against the number one team in the country. Those two guys, I think, did a very, very good job for their first two outings as freshmen, first college starts as freshmen.”
“The first thing that jumps at you is that they’re very physically talented,” Miami pitching coach J.D. Arteaga added. “Both guys are mid to upper-90s type guys when they want to. They throw strikes which, for a young pitcher, is something that they’re a little bit ahead of their time there. They’re efficient and very competitive.”
The expectations of DiMare, a former Hurricane himself, have not calmed their desires to continue evolving on equally important physical and mental side of the game.
“You take a kid like Alejandro Rosario, which it’s amazing [because] he’s kind of a gym rat. He’s always around, always listening, no matter who you’re talking to. He’s never far away, always listening in, and just taking every little bit that he can out of every conversation that you’re having with somebody. I mean, both guys are very coachable, great to work with, and I think the future is very bright for both of those guys.”
All individual goals aside, the expectations for Rosario and Mederos to help the team’s ultimate goal of winning its first College World Series in two decades.
“I expect them to get better and better,” DiMare said. “I expect them to develop as they go along, learn to pitch better; I just expect them to improve from each outing and hopefully they’ll be at their best at the end of the season.”
The Hurricanes have experienced their surprises — both positive and negative — this spring, but the light continues to shine brighter for Rosario and Mederos as they continue to grow their abilities on the field and their relationship with one another.