The Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing, but eight eastern TSA teams swung for the fences and bragging rights in their own competition – the 2023 National TSA Softball Tournament.
The Miami Power, made up of TSA employees from Miami International Airport (MIA), took the top prize, beating squads from New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) Airports; Florida’s Orlando (MCO), Tampa (TPA) and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) Airports; and as far away as Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU).
The tournament took place at Lasorda Legacy Park in Yaphank, New York, about an hour from JFK and LGA.
“It’s all fun and games until we hit the fields,” said MIA TSA Manager Moises Navarro, the Power team manager and a 21-year TSA employee. “We leave it all out on the field when it comes time to defending our airport.”
The competition was fierce, but the spirited tournament united the eight participating teams and generated a strong spirit of friendly fellowship.
“It’s always fun to see our counterparts from other airports,” Navarro emphasized. “We all have very much the same common goals … We all came to TSA with the same goal of protecting our great nation.”
Ernesto Ruiz, a supervisory TSA officer at MCO, coached one of the enemies – the JFK Pirates, the team he founded when he worked at JFK before transferring to Orlando in 2015. Ruiz coordinated the softball tournament, which he said was a great way to connect with each other despite all the trash-talking between teams.
“One of the biggest advantages is networking with other teams,” said Ruiz, who, like Navarro, joined TSA in 2002 shortly after the agency’s rollout. “Teams always talk shop. We discuss best practices and improvements. Since teams are comprised of all levels of leadership, we get feedback on issues from different eyes. These relationships have led to personal relationships.”
Administrative Officer Joseph Andino and his team, the SJU Islanders, made the 1,600-mile trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, all traveling at their own expense to compete.
“The tournament was born in 2004 by JFK and SJU with a game here in Puerto Rico,” said Andino, who’s also been with TSA for two decades. “We tried for the last 15 years to travel and compete.”
SJU came up short in its bid to take home the tourney trophy, but Andino feels it was well worth the trip.
“We have created a family by having all these tournaments, made many friends,” he noted. “We constantly share best practices and work-related experiences. On many occasions, we help each other out in screening and mission support and seek guidance within the TSA softball community.”
Lead TSA Officer Andrew Collazo coached the MCO Thunder and said the softball tournament means a lot to him and his team.
“There is no better feeling than being on the field with my fellow TSA officers,” Collazo said. “I lived through 911, and I love what this TSA tournament represents – teamwork, camaraderie, building relationships.”
This was the third TSA softball tournament for fellow MCO teammate Michael Priolo, a five-year officer.
“Talking to other players off the field about TSA helps me learn there is a variety of people on teams from different departments,” said Priolo. “You get a chance to talk with them out of a work setting and gain knowledge from them, also, see how they do things compared to MCO. I would love to see more airports join this annual tournament and make it even bigger for the agency. It would also be cool to have more places to travel to and play.”
Priolo’s wish is about to come true. Ruiz said next year’s tournament is scheduled for October 15-18 in San Juan.
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs