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At 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, Nick Regalado and his family are already on the search for an empty field. Every year, they ensure they have enough space for their annual Turkey Bowl. In Miami-Dade County, 30 minutes could be the difference between finding a vacant area or not with other families vying for a spot.
Nick has drafted his own squad since he was promoted from water boy to player at 12 years old, facing teams led by his older brothers or father. Carlos Rey Jr. has always had a roster spot unless he doesn't wake up in time, which happened last year. They play from 9 to 11 a.m., momentarily stopping games during fights which Rey Jr. stands to the side for.
'Even with baseball or off baseball, it's funny how they've played with each other or against each other,' said Orestes Regalado, Nick's dad.
Nick and Rey Jr. have been Turkey Bowl teammates for the last six years, but the pair of pitchers started playing Little League together when they were 8. They were born four days apart, but share opposite personalities ' Rey Jr. is more introverted while Nick will "talk to anyone." And on June 22, 2022, the now-Chatham teammates found out they would 'piggyback' off each other 20 minutes before facing Harwich.
'Hopefully it's something I can do again, but it might not be something I'll be able to do again,' Rey Jr. said about pitching on the same day as Nick. 'To share the field with one of my best friends is awesome.'
Orestes said the families have a lot in common as a whole. Orestes and Carlos Rey Sr. talk up to twice a day, and both work in construction around Miami. They coached their sons when they first started playing baseball despite not having much experience playing the sport themselves.
Rey Sr. was a more laid-back coach, focusing on letting kids have fun at whatever position they wanted. Orestes held a 'football mentality' and expected more at times; Nick had six RBIs in one game, but Orestes was still frustrated that he couldn't secure the win. But both parents, still not fully knowledgeable about the sport, learned a lot from their kids.
'They were 11 and 12 years old and they would teach me patience,' Rey Sr. said. 'Playing baseball is a marathon, not a sprint.'
Little League baseball around Miami is highly competitive, said Chatham third baseman Anthony Nunez, who played alongside Rey Jr. in travel ball. Rey Sr. estimated that 20 to 21 players who participated alongside Nick and Rey Jr. have already been drafted by major league teams.
'You could put a team from Miami-Dade County in the (World Baseball Classic) and they would probably win a game,' Rey Sr. said.
The environment they played in itself was 'upbeat' too, Rey Jr. said. Parents would bring maracas, bongos or water bottles filled with rocks to cheer on their kids. Rey Jr.'s mom even carried a specific 'bag of instruments' to each game.
Rey Jr. said the Little League games were more competitive than travel baseball since rules prevented runners from leading off bases, forcing Rey Jr. and Regalado to focus more on either batting or pitching.
The pair emphasized batting at first, competing with each other to see who could hit the most home runs. Rey Jr. said he hit the most home runs, but Nick hit the farthest ones.
Rey Jr. and Nick took turns on the mound, but Rey Jr. said other teams were scared of Nick since he was bigger than most kids. Rey Sr. would routinely put Nick in if the other coach was 'yipping and yapping' and they needed to seal the win.
'I have a demeanor on the mound, I look angry all the time,' Nick said. 'I guess I just carried it throughout my life.'
When Nick was diagnosed with Little league shoulder ' an injury caused by overuse of the arm ' and couldn't use his dominant right hand for five to six weeks, he hit left-handed. In one game against North Miami, Nick launched a home run from the left-handed batter's box. Rey Jr. challenged himself to the same task after hitting two homers with his dominant hand. Instead, he scorched a double from the right-handed batter's box.
Nick and Rey Jr. dominated with Miami Springs Major in pursuit for a place in the Little League World Series. Nick pitched once with his off-hand and struck out a batter, but Rey Jr. had to do most of the heavy lifting on the mound. The team, missing other players due to conflicting schedules of travel ball and Little League, lost in the championship of their district tournament.
'Who knows if that team would have been one of those teams that could have gone to the big show,' Orestes said.
Rey Jr. and Nick's families would watch high school games in the area when they weren't competing. At Hialeah Senior High School, they watched now-New York Yankees pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. take the mound more than a decade ago. While their parents brought out their instruments to cheer on players like Regalado's older brother, the duo sat in the top row on the first base side, watching the best players in Miami battle in front of them.
'It goes to show a lot about our community and our city,' Rey Jr. said about the pair's success. 'Cortes, Manny Machado, J.D. Martinez are all people from where we're from. They started it and now we're just building on it.'