“I started by shagging foul balls, passed balls to the team that was playing then; I believe it was Joe Easchief’s team. I was between 7 and 10 years old at the time,” said Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Arnold Makil about how he got started playing baseball.
“I didn’t play until I came home from boarding school in 1926. I started playing with my cousin Austin, Roger Evens, Cedirc Cough, Berkley Cough, Paul Smith and more. The first tournament I was in was the 1962 tournament. I don’t know if it was called the Southwest Tournament at the time, but to my recollection I think that was the first year the tribe officially put on a tournament.”
It stood out in Makil’s mind because they were just a ragtag team from the Lehi district.
“We weren’t considered a very talented team at the time, but during the tournament we managed to knock Sacaton out of the winner’s bracket,” said Makil. “When we played the Sacaton team, they got so frustrated because we were beating them. One of our players who was up to bat hit the ball over a Sacaton player’s head, and instead of jumping in the air to catch the ball, he threw his glove into the air and it hit the ball down. He got ejected from the game and we went on to win [that game].”
Makil recalled another memory of playing with the Lehi team.
“I remember one of our players was at bat, and it was a crucial play where we had runners on base. To win the game, he would have to get a hit. Like I said, we were a ragtag team at the time; we didn’t have uniforms, and all of our equipment was so poor. I remember he had on cleats held together by duct tape and string; we used whatever we could find. When he hit the ball, he pivoted and took off running to first base and was safe. He looked back and realized his shoe was still at home plate! When he took off, his shoe fell apart,” said Makil.
After playing on the Lehi team for a few years, Makil started playing with the Braves as a pick-up player for tournaments, going to Parker, Peridot and other places. At that time he met and married Elizabeth Sabahe, who was from Lehi, and they started their family.
“I think I stopped playing altogether in 1969, because I guess I felt I was getting past my prime. There was a period in there where I didn’t play at all, until Vince and his brothers (Makil’s sons) started getting old enough [to play]. They started playing in the Mesa Little League programs. I got involved in that and followed them
through until Vince was old enough and started playing with Art Stacey’s team for about a year,” said Makil.
“The boys decided they wanted to start their own team here in Lehi. The first couple of years were kind of rough on them, because they were a young team. They used to play against different teams off the Community, and [the opposing teams] would call the Lehi team the ‘Little Kids’ team because they were such a young team; most of the players were teenagers or in their early 20s. It wasn’t till about two or three years after developing the team that they started getting a good, solid team and started winning tournaments.”
Makil was the coach of the Little League team, which was called the Lehi Raiders. Eventually they changed the name to Lehi. He continued to coach the team for about 20 years, until his sons Vince and Jason were old enough to take it over in the 1980s.
“They’re still running it till this day and are both still playing,” said Makil. “They don’t know when to quit.”
During all of Makil’s time playing baseball, including with his sons, his wife Elizabeth was always on the sidelines cheering her boys on. She even kept track of the teams they played on, the ones they played against and the players on all the teams.
“Every year we would get an Arizona Highways calendar, and that’s where she would put all the information for our tournaments that we were a part of, [including] each team we played and the players’ names,” said Makil. “It’s pretty accurate. She has done it for all these years; her earliest calendar dates back to the early ’60s.”
Elizabeth Makil and the Lehi team supporters would have food sales to raise money to cover the team’s expenses in attending tournaments. The Lehi Raiders sponsored their own tournament right in Lehi, and during those tournaments they would have food sales and raise enough money to continue to send the team to different tournaments every year.
“We had a lot of supporters because a lot of the players’ parents and spouses would follow the team from tournament to tournament for support,” said Makil. “We caravanned out to different tournaments. When we would go out of town, we would camp out in different areas like near the river in San Carlos or in the desert in Sells, or friends would let us stay at their homes in their yards.”
Baseball has taught Makil discipline and a sense of responsibility.
“I just tried to get [Makil’s sons] to do it to stay out of trouble and be involved in activities that would be beneficial to them in their later years. [They have learned the importance of commitment by] playing baseball, and in doing so they are setting examples for the younger boys and their children.”