The summer of 2015 was a time for Native American youth to compete and have fun participating in the 17th Annual D-backs Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament, which took place June 17 to 20 at various locations within the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), as well as at the Luis Gonzales and Matt Mantei baseball fields located in Tempe, Arizona.
The tournament brought together a total of 54 baseball teams composed of three division levels; the single “A” division included 9 to 12 year olds; the double “A” division was made up of 13 to 15 year old players, and the triple “A” division for freshman to senior high school students. In addition, a 16 team softball tournament for youth took place that was composed of high school level players. The overall tournament featured more than 1,000 players from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Facilities at SRPMIC provided an array of fields to accommodate many of the games. Salt River High School played host to the softball tournament games, the single “A” division games were played at the SRPMIC recreation ball fields, while the double “A” and Triple “A” tournament games were held at Talking Stick Fields. Tara Trzinski, Community & Foundation Operations Manager for the D-backs, and coordinator of the tournament said, “We have played at the fields at Salt River for [for a number of years}. It has worked out well for us.”
During the games, children could be heard yelling encouragement to their fellow teammates. As players watch the play of the game from the dugout, one could hear them express their excitement or see them concentrating on the game, possibly anticipating their moment to shine. Family and friends of every team that participated filled the stands and surrounded the playing fields to watch their favorite team play. You saw a variety of people at the games, even those who had no direct affiliation to a team, but, came out just for the love of the game.
On Saturday June 20 at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, the highlight of tournament included the opportunity for all of the teams who played in the D-backs Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament to attend and partake in the Native American Recognition Day presented by Gila River Casinos, which was part of the pre-game festivities at the Arizona D-backs versus San Diego game.
The opportunity provided a chance for all the teams to participate in a parade along the “warning track” of Chase Field; as team names were announced they received hearty applause from all in attendance. This segment was marked as the tournament closing ceremonies, which included the trophy presentation for tournament division winners and the recognition of D-backs Coach of the Year for the Native American Baseball and Softball Tournament.
The triple “A” division baseball team, Mesa Indians, which included members from SRPMIC had an overall tournament record of 4-1, and took home 3rd place in the Triple “A” division tournament. Two players from the Mesa Indians, Tony Sepulveda and Aaron Makil were selected to the all-tournament team.
The Native American Recognition day at Chase Field provided a platform for the Az D-Backs to help showcase and celebrate the rich cultures of different Native American tribes.
The pre-game festivities began at 5:00 pm, and included song and dance performances in the Rotunda area near the main gate entrance, which included the SRPMIC Bird Singing and Dancing by the River group of SRPMIC along with more than eight other tribal groups. In addition to the closing ceremony and recognition of the youth baseball and softball teams, and there was inter-tribal dance performances that took place in the baseball centerfield area.
Additional activities included recognition of more than 30 of Arizona’s Tribal Royalty representatives, which included the participation of SRPMIC community member, Martha L. Martinez, as the Miss Indian Arizona 1st Attendant.
Other pre-game festivity highlights included the presentation of colors by Ira Hayes American Legion Post #85, the singing of the national anthem by Monica Sekaquaptewa, a recent graduate of Chandler High School, and the honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch for the game was completed by Stephen R. Lewis, Governor of the Gila River Indian Community.
There were many more recognitions and presentations given during the pre-game moments, as well as there were educational displays and exhibits by the Heard Museum, Native Health and others in “The Sandlot” section in the stadium, which is a family-focused amenity of the venue.
The youth and their families that participated in tournament were once again treated to a big-league experience.