STATE COLLEGE – When he walks around the clubhouse and field at Lubrano Park in State College, Darren Seferina can’t help but smile.
As one of the newest members of the New York-Penn League’s State College Spikes, Seferina’s deep-seated love for baseball radiates off of him like heat from a stove. He can’t get enough of the game.
That passion for baseball is something he adopted at a very young age, when he first picked up a ball and glove at the age of four, and started taking lessons from Frank Curiel at his town’s local field in Willemstad, Curacao.
It was that same enthusiasm that helped lead Seferina from his home to South Williamsport, when he and his teammates earned back-to-back trips to the Little League World Series in 2005 and 2006.
That experience, Seferina says, was one of the great highlights of his life.
“For a young kid, to play in front of that many people was a lot of fun,” he said. “Meeting the other teams was also a great experience, because we all connected with each other really good.”
In his first trip, in 2005, Seferina was hoping to help Curacao win its second-consecutive championship, after the previous year’s group topped Thousand Oaks, Calif., in a 5-2 decision for the title. The 2004 team featured future major leaguers Jurickson Profar and Jonathan Schoop.
Profar returned in 2005 and Seferina nearly got his wish, as Curacao worked its way into the championship game against Hawaii and lost a 7-6 nail-biter.
In that game, Seferina smacked a fifth-inning solo shot over the centerfield wall to give his team a 6-3 lead, before Ewa Beach, Hawaii, rallied in the sixth to force extra innings and eventually won in the seventh inning on Michael Memea’s home run.
That home run was Seferina’s favorite memory of the series as a whole.
“I was having a good game and having some good at bats,” he said. “After I hit that I was like, ‘Wow, this is really happening’.”
For as good as that home run felt, the sting of losing the game was equally as painful.
“It hurt because I wanted to be a champion really bad,” Seferina said.
The following year Curacao didn’t fare as well, going 1-2. However, Seferina wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
“I liked everything about it,” Seferina said. “I liked the fans, I liked the food -there was a lot of food; I liked the kids, I liked the teams, I liked the jerseys.
“I loved it all,” he said.
He said it was very unique for him to play against teams with such diversity, especially after playing the same kids over and over on the tiny island he is from.
“When we got over here and got to meet all the different teams with different languages, the entire atmosphere was so different for us,” he said. “It was really cool.”
When asked why he thinks Curacao has endured so much success in baseball on a global scale, Seferina said that even though the island is small, they make up for what they lack in size with national pride.
“Peoople in Curacao work hard and they really like to represent the island,” Seferina said. “They always teach you to work to be the best.”
That attitude has helped Seferina and many of his teammates continue their baseball careers to the collegiate and professional levels.
“There are a lot of us that still play and we all keep in touch,” Seferina said.
This year marks Seferina’s first season with a professional squad. He was selected in the fifth round of the MLB Amateur Draft as a second baseman by the St. Louis Cardinals after spending a season at Miami Dade College, where he earned many honors, including First Team All-Southern Conference, First Team All-State, and Third Team NJCAA All-America.
For now, Seferina is getting his feet wet in the New York-Penn League as a member of the State College Spikes, a Single-A affiliate of the Cardinals. So far, he has maintained a .300 batting average over 129 at-bats.
He is excited to be playing baseball back in a state where he has so many great memories of the game, and said that he hopes to make the drive to South Williamsport sometime during the series to catch a game with his parents when they come to visit.
“I want to make it back really bad,” he said. “To have played in a series, it would be really cool to go back and watch a few games.”
“Normally I have to watch it on TV every year.”
Seferina feels that playing in the Little League World Series didn’t necessarily prepare him for the next stages in his career because, at the time, he could only focus on the moment he was in.
“At that time I was too much in love with the game to think about the future,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about getting drafted.”
Though the series might not have taught him anything extra about the game, he did say that his experiences in Little League as a whole taught him a great deal about it. Especially those lessons he learned from his coaches, Frank Curiel and Vernon Isabella.
Whenever he makes trips back to the island, Seferina is always sure to track down his childhood mentors and spend some time with them at the ball field.
“Those guys taught me so much about the game,” he said. “They still teach me stuff that benefits me at my age right now.”
The best advice Seferina can offer to teams in this year’s Little League World Series is to simply enjoy it and not let the moment pass.
“It’s all about playing the game you love and having fun,” said Seferina. “That took us pretty far.”