Softball star in Cuba for tournament

Catcher is expected to be one of top freshmen in region in 2019

RED, WHITE AND BLUE—Maddy Mekari, an incoming Westlake High freshman, is playing international softball games in Cuba this week. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

RED, WHITE AND BLUE—Maddy Mekari, an incoming Westlake High freshman, is playing international softball games in Cuba this week. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers

Whether it’s hitting off a tee, taking grounders or playing a simple game of catch, Maddy Mekari never lets a day go by without some softball in her life.

Not even when she’s on vacation.

“I even brought my glove to New York,” Mekari said during a recent phone call from East Northport, Long Island. “We’ve been playing catch here.”

She packed her glove again earlier this week for a trip to Havana, Cuba. This time it’s mandatory as she’ll be using the ol’ leather while representing the Firecrackers travel ball team and the Red, White and Blue in the second annual Copa Amistad Tournament.

The Firecrackers are playing six games, including showdowns against the Cuban national team, the Cuban junior national team and the University of Puerto Rico. The Firecrackers, who collected gear to leave behind for the Cuban teams, will also get the chance to play alongside Cubans in a mixed-squad exhibition.

“I’m really excited to see what softball is like over there,” Mekari said. “I’m really looking forward to learning about the culture. I’m hoping to open my eyes to the rest of the world.

“I could have lived in a bubble where everything is perfect and fantastic, but I’m interested in exploring the rest of the world.”

Mekari, a 14-year-old catcher who will be a freshman at Westlake

High in the fall, is one of two freshmen on the 12-player American roster. A first-year player with the Firecrackers, Mekari grew up playing WAGS softball.

Mekari, a Thousand Oaks resident who attended Colina Middle School, has been a special talent since she started playing for David Berlinger in WAGS.

“When she was younger, she was the type of girl that showed up to practice on time and tried hard,” Berlinger said. “She was always my No. 1 catcher. She’s a great teammate and a great leader.”

Bob Creamer, who is entering his third year as Westlake’s softball head coach, said he met Mekari at Future Warrior Night in January. He said Mekari is one of a stampede of talented freshmen joining the program.

“This is the best crop of freshmen we’ve ever had at Westlake,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things (about Mekari). I’m really looking forward to her joining the program.

“Westlake’s not going to be a doormat anymore.”

Lily Berlinger, the coach’s daughter and longtime friend and teammate of Mekari, said she’s excited to join the same program as Mekari.

“She’s really positive,” Berlinger said. “She’s the sweetest person I know.”

Berlinger, an incoming Westlake freshman, patrols second base on game days.

David Berlinger said he’s expecting a strong Warrior program for years to come.

“I have a feeling there will be a CIF softball championship at Westlake High in the next couple of years,” he said.

Mekari, an honors student with a 3.8 grade-point average, was already chosen as Westlake’s freshman class president. She served as class president in the first semester of her eighth-grade year. She’s also a member of Thousand Oaks Youth Commission.

The eldest of Reseda High sweethearts Koko and Seana Mekari’s two daughters, Maddy Mekari said she enjoys being a role model for her younger sister, Elly, an 11-year-old basketball standout.

Maddy Mekari said she dreams of becoming a college athlete like her cousins, Tony and Patrick Mekari, Westlake graduates who played Division I college football for the California Golden Bears. Tony played nose guard as a senior last year. Patrick will be a senior offensive lineman this season.

“They set a really good example for me,” Maddy Mekari said of her cousins.

Mekari’s future is bright, but she can’t get ahead of herself.

She has a unique experience to enjoy in Cuba. After all the fun on the diamond, the players will explore Old Havana, visit Playa Varadero and take part in a classic-car ride.

“I love the ’50s,” Mekari said, “and Cuba’s sort of stuck in the ’50s. I’m really excited to see what life is like over there.”

The Cuban experience

• Maddy Mekari, an incoming Westlake High freshman, is in Cuba playing a series of softball games at the second annual Copa Amistad Tournament.

• The tournament, which started July 11 with a showdown between Mekari’s Firecrackers travel squad and the Cuban National Team, runs through Sat., July 14.

• Mekari, a catcher, is one of two freshmen on the 12-player roster.