They've conquered the west. Next up for the members of the Arroyo Seco Saints baseball team — the world.
The eight-team, double-elimination 2012 Palomino League World Series kicks off today at noon at the Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Compton, where the locally flavored Saints will represent the West Zone.
"It's an interesting experience for us," said Saints Coach Aaron Milam, who also coaches St. Francis High. "This isn't the first tournament or competition we've been in, but obviously it's the World Series — there's going to be an aura and a World Series-type atmosphere, there's going to be other countries, there's an opening ceremony and a gift exchange — it's a full-fledged event."
Featuring a hodgepodge of talent from St. Francis, Crescenta Valley and Glendale Community College, the Saints will take on Asian Pacific Zone-representative Chinese Taipei from Taiwan in a 3 p.m. tilt.
The Saints (32-4-1) arrive in the tournament on a nice hot streak, having captured the Southern California title on July 25 before surging through the West Zone Regional, culminating in Tuesday's 5-2 win over the San Jose Giants to clinch a World Series berth after coming up just short the past two seasons.
They have won 28 of their last 30 and 15 in a row, having emerged from the last two tournaments unbeaten. The Palomino postseason ushered in the change from wooden bats to aluminum, which has been just fine with the Saints.
"I think our offense, since moving to the aluminum bats, has really clicked as a team," said pitcher Elliot Surrey, a Crescenta Valley graduate. "Everyone's contributing and doing a great job at the plate and our pitchers all year have done really well.
"It's all coming together as a team right now."
Milam said he will start either Surrey, a left-hander, or right-hander Calvin Copping in today's opener. Surrey tossed two scoreless innings to earn the save on Tuesday.
"It really depends on the matchup," Milam said. "We're out there doing some research right now trying to find out some information on this team."
So far, that information has been hard to come by, but infielder David Olmedo-Barrera, a 2012 St. Francis graduate, said the Saints will be taking the same approach they have when playing teams from the Southwest and up and down the Pacific coast during previous tournaments.
"We're not really sure what we're going into," Olmedo-Barrera said, "so we just need to have an approach where we feel like they're going to be at their best and we just need to be that much better that day.
"We've been playing some really good games and playing some good competition, so we know we have a good staff and we have a good lineup. I feel like we're pretty comfortable going into the tournament and hopefully we can just continue what we're doing."
The other six teams in the tournament consist of host Compton; Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico; Brownsville, Tex.; Lynnhaven, Va.; Buenaventura, Carolina, Puerto Rico and the CM Stars of Mississippi.
"It will be fun to play opponents from all over, but I think our advantage we have in this is that we've been together all summer since the beginning," Surrey said. "We've bonded together more as a team. ...We can go out and play as a team because we've been together all summer where other teams might not have been."
If the Saints win today's opener, they will play the winner of today's game between the CM Stars and Buenaventura at 7:30 p.m. Friday. A loss to Chinese Taipei would put Arroyo Seco in the loser's bracket to face the loser of CM Stars-Buenaventura at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"I think this is a confident team, I don't think they're worried about who we're playing," Milam said. "The fact that this is an experienced team and older group of kids, I think they approach the game in the same way regardless of the opponent. There is a lot of excitement around the fact that we're playing Chinese Taipei, but I don't think there's any sense of, 'Oh no, what are we going to get,' there's a quiet confidence that's going on right now."
The championship game is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m.