The 51st Annual Southwest Men’s Baseball Tournament brought 23 Native American baseball teams from across Arizona to the Salt River Baseball Field from Wednesday, July 31 to Saturday, August 3.
After preliminary games played over the first few days of the tournament, the Mesa Rays was one of the teams left standing, along with the Guadalupe Ice Boys. But the Rays still had their work cut out for them before they could earn their place in the championship game against the Ice Boys.
The Rays ended up playing three games on the last day of the tournament, starting at 10:45 a.m. The first was against the Los Santos team; the Rays defeated Los Santos and moved on to their second game of the day, in which they defeated the Guadalupe Yaquis. Then they defeated the WR Rebels in the semifinals.
On their journey to the championship, the Guadalupe Ice Boys beat the WR Rebels on the last day of the tournament, at noon. So they had some time to rest and wait to see which team they would play in the championship game later that evening.
After winning three games in a row in 100-degree temperatures, the Mesa Rays were set to play in the championship against the Guadalupe Ice Boys.
“We’re going to give it all we got, and leave it all out there,” said Rays player Eric Barton prior to the championship game.
Rick Barton, Eric’s father and head coach for the Mesa Rays, has been playing in the Men’s All-Indian Southwest Baseball Tournament since 1985.
“[The] last time I played for the championship was back in 1987,” said Rick Barton. “It’s good to be back and get the team back together. Some of the players here today have played with the Mesa Indians and have won championships in this tournament. The team members are mostly from the San Carlos Apache Tribe, but live in Mesa.”
In previous games, Barton hit a home run and player Seth Joe hit four home runs and a grand slam, which got the Rays’ momentum going after a slow start in the tournament.
With cars full of people lined up along the fence and bleachers full of spectators to watch the championship, the Rays and the Ice Boys played a good old-fashioned ball game. Even after playing three games earlier that day, the Rays did not tire out. They went on to beat the Ice Boys 16-2 for the championship title.
“This year we had [more] teams sign up than in the previous years,” said Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Recreation Athletics Program Supervisor Mike Douglas. “[The] games were played well. We had a couple of rule changes that the teams needed to adjust to, but overall there were some great games [and] not many blow-outs. There were hard fights between the traditional teams that usually sign up.”
The next baseball/softball tournaments coming up on the Community are Monsoon Madness, August 22-24, and the September Slam over the weekend of Saturday, September 21. For more information on upcoming sporting events, contact the Salt River Recreation Department at (480) 362-6360.