Hundreds of players gathered inside Chase Field prior to the start of the Arizona Diamondbacks game versus the San Francisco Giants on July 24 to take part in Native American Recognition Day, hosted by the Diamondbacks. It was all part of the Native American Baseball and Softball Invitational (NABI), held July 24–28.
The Diamondbacks are the only Major League Baseball club to honor Native Americans with a Recognition Day and an all-Native American youth baseball tournament. Drum groups, dancers, vocalists, royalty and a parade of teams participated in the 12th Annual Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball Tournament. The tournament was hosted by the Diamondbacks, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the NABI Foundation. Baseball players ranging in age from 9 through 17, as well as high school–age girl’s softball teams, took part in the tournament.
The Native American Recognition Day (NARD) festivities began with teams gathering inside Chase Field. They were then escorted down through the visitor’s bullpen, where they entered and paraded through the facility on the warning track (the dirt or gravel strip between the grass field and the dugouts). Royalty from various tribes were presented at home plate.
The participants were eager to get the opportunity to walk on the big-league field and enjoyed viewing themselves on the Jumbotron.
The Salt River Fat Dawg’s Ballers and their coach Raul Martinez were dressed in special shirts with a team flag to represent their team during the parade.
“This is a good opportunity for the kids to come out and see the field and realize their dreams can become big dreams, if they continue to play hard, try hard and get an education on and off the field,” Martinez said.
Martinez added that he is grateful to the Arizona Diamondbacks for hosting NARD. He said there are a lot of other Native American baseball players in other states, but they are not highly publicized because their respective teams do not host a recognition day.
The Onk-Akimel O’odhams junior and senior teams are participating in NABI, but only the junior team participated in NARD. Head coach Arnold Thomas said the younger teams really enjoy taking part in the festivities.
“The older guys just really want to play ball,” he said. “Most of the junior team members have been here before, but for three players this is a brand-new experience.”
Thomas said the tournament is filled with a lot of good ballplayers. He said he is glad NABI is offered, because “after a certain age there are not many chances for the kids to continue to play.”
For some players, the chance to walk on Chase Field is once in a lifetime and something they will remember forever.