Antonio Colón had no idea anyone had even floated his name for a prestigious national recognition until he found out he was a finalist for Little League coach of the year.
On Friday, the Lake Park Little League (Milwaukee) coach leaves for Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he'll be presented with the award during the Little League World Series.
The 37-year-old Brown Deer resident has been coaching youth baseball since 2016, and when a call came from a representative at Lance snack foods (which sponsors the plaudit), he figured it was nice just to have gotten that far. But to win?
"It's an honor, very unexpected," Colón said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to be able to coach, I am very thankful for the nomination for the parents of Lake Park Little League, as well as their commitment to the game with getting their kids to practices, giving their kids an opportunity to enjoy the game and show me the passion they have for it. It's been awesome."
The award seeks to honor someone "who inspires kids to be the best they can be both on and off the field."
Colón coaches two teams, the Lake Park Reds featuring players ages 9-10 and the Lake Park Astros, ages 11-12. He got started like so many coaches, taking an opportunity to coach his two children and his fiancée Melissa's two kids: Antonio Jr., Aubree, Hailey and Aurea, who range in age from 9-12.
Colón played baseball only through age 16 growing up in Ohio.
"I just fell back on what I remembered from my own experiences and the coaches that I have, the standards they try to set, how they always set a level of expectation for us and made us drive to be better," he said. "Also, just knowing the specific talent level and set of skills varies at the age, so I'm pushing where I know I can still help them benefit and grow their passion for the game and enjoy the game but not too much where it's not fun anymore."
The Lake Park teams play games in Milwaukee but also travel to places such as Germantown, West Bend and Menomonee Falls.
There are challenges in Milwaukee youth sports, to be sure. The league didn't play a 2020 schedule during the pandemic, and many families engaged in the program opted to play elsewhere. But the tide is turning in 2022, Colón says.
"People did want their kids back involved with things (this year)," he said. "There's growth in the level of competition we've personally seen ... instead of just playing teams that are really good or really bad, we're seeing different levels of competition."
Colón is scheduled to receive the honor just before the 6 p.m. CT game Saturday in Williamsport. Little League World Series games are televised on the ESPN networks and ABC, with the championship game Sunday, Aug. 28.
He'll also get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at American Family Field before a Brewers game Sept. 16 and also receive $5,000 to spend on team equipment.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee man headed to Little League World Series as coach of year