A popular summer pastime returned in a big way this year after being postponed following the COVID-19 pandemic. Youth from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community laced up their cleats from May 25 to 28 to compete in the 21st Annual Arizona Diamondbacks Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament, which was co-hosted by the SRPMIC.
This year, five teams from the Community took to the baseball diamond to compete in the Single A, Double A and Triple A divisions. The Salt River Banditos, AZ Hype and Salt River Bulldogs all entered into Single A division play, while a second AZ Hype team competed in the Double A division. To round out the list of SRPMIC teams, the Desert Dingers played in the Triple A division.
In all, 45 teams from across the Southwest competed in the tournament, representing communities such as the Gila River Indian Community, Navajo Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Guadalupe, the Hopi Tribe and other tribal nations.
To lead off the tournament, the Salt River Banditos looked to have some fun and see where their standings would be heading into the final games of the week. With the SRPMIC again hosting the tournament, Community families came together, eager to see their children “Play ball!”
In their first matchup, the Desert Dingers showed promise behind solid pitching and productive at-bats, but they were only able to collect one win throughout the tournament. In their winning game, the team’s pitcher showed adversity under pressure to get out of the inning when players were in scoring position. At the end of their division play, the Desert Dingers settled for a record of 1 win and 2 losses.
For the Double A division AZ Hype team, they found their stride early on and never looked back. AZ Hype would allow a combined total of only five runs throughout the tournament, due in part to a solid defense.
AZ Hype rode their success into the Saturday games on May 28, playing in the semifinals and the championship game against the Expos squad and the Windtalkers team, respectively. During their early outing, AZ Hype dominated the matchup, posting 11 runs on the board in a decisive victory against the Expos.
With the victory in hand, AZ Hype punched their way into the Double A championship game the very same evening at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Heading into the final game, AZ Hype and the Windtalkers had enjoyed similar outings, scoring double-digit runs followed up with limiting their opponents’ runs.
The championship game would see the two teams vying for the title, as they brought out similar defensive plays to limit the runs on both sides. It wasn’t until midway through the game that the Windtalkers’ pitching started to waver, and AZ Hype got the bats going to capitalize on the moment.
As the Windtalkers’ pitching struggled through the fifth and sixth innings, AZ Hype brought in a few more runs to put the game out of reach. At times the pitching for AZ Hype would get interesting, allowing some Windtalkers batters on base and in position to score, but with determination, the home team was able to shut down those efforts and secure the Double A division championship.
AZ Hype coach Raul Ruvalcaba, a member of the Gila River Indian Community, said the team consisted of a tight nit group of youths, who have played together over the years. “I knew their strengths and weaknesses as a team, so we tried to improve on those things for [this] tournament,” said Ruvalcaba.
He added, “We built a strong team and I am proud of them. Although I coach them, it is all about execution, the chemstry and for them to carry out the game plan.” Next up for the team, is a trip to the National Championship Sports Baseball World Series in Albuquerque New Mexico from July 7-10.
Despite some teams falling short of the championship bracket, it was an experience back to normalcy, with youth baseball season back in session. Congratulations to all the SRPMIC teams and tribal teams for their participation in the annual Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament.