At the start of the year, coaches and players in the Santa Clarita Youth Baseball league weren’t sure they’d even be able to play baseball in 2019.
The fields at the Rick Robb Memorial Baseball park at the Valencia Travel Village, where the SCYB had made its home since 2014, were no longer available after the landlord decided to bulldoze the baseball fields.
Thankfully, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger stepped in and found a new home for the youth league, the Castaic Sports Complex.
Now, the 11U Black Sox team is heading to the Cal Ripken Pacific Southwest Regional Tournament in Vernal, Utah, on Sunday, where they will compete against 11 other teams from Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and California for a chance to qualify for next year’s Little League World Series.
“Before the season we didn’t have a field, so getting this field is probably the most magical thing,” said Black Sox outfielder Joey Nuttall. “Without it, we couldn’t play baseball.”
The Black Sox came together quickly, with some of the kids returning for another season after playing together for a couple of years, while new kids also joined the squad.
The team finished in second place at the Cal Ripken State Championships, winning three elimination games in a row to make the final before falling to Los Altos. Their second-place finish earned them a bid to the regional tournament.
“It feels very good because we’ve worked so hard all season and to see it all pan out and go to Utah as West Regional No. 2 out of Southern California, it feels pretty good,” said outfielder Jake Nuttall.
“I think they thrived on it, they fought the entire day, three games in a row in a tournament is pretty much unheard of but they did it,” said Black Sox coach Rob Hines. “I was amazed, I was tired and I wasn’t even playing.”
The Santa Clarita club, who used a donation from Barger to rent a van big enough to transport the 12-person team plus the coaches, will spend nearly a week in Vernal.
The Black Sox will be the first team in action, opening the tournament at 10:30 a.m. on Monday against Hawaii Kai, the No. 1 team from Hawaii.
Santa Clarita’s starting pitcher, Carlos Esparza, is looking forward to playing in such a prestigious tournament and will be ready to go when he heads to the mound in the opening game.
“It’s all about confidence and how I start off the game. If these boys from Hawaii are ready to go, I have to be ready to go too,” Esparza said. “I can’t say I’m going to strike out everybody, but I know my team is ready to go. Our team is really good. All these boys are very nice and confident and they’re ready to play, and when I’m on the mound, I know I can count on the defense.”
“It makes me feel really happy that we’re playing as a team, winning, and now we’re going to Utah,” said third baseman Brandon Hines. “It’s been really special, I can’t explain how excited I am.”
The Black Sox will have an off day on Tuesday, and are planning on exploring the area and taking in the scenery.
They return to action on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. playing Roosevelt, the No. 1 team from Southern Utah. Their last game in pool play will be on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. against Elk Grove, the No. 2 team from Northern California.
The 12 participating teams are divided into three pools, with the top two in each pool advancing. The top two overall teams will have a bye in the first round and will play in the semifinals on Saturday. The championship game will also take place on Saturday.
If things fall into place, the Black Sox could have a shot at avenging their earlier loss to Los Altos.
“It would be nice to play them on some fresh legs, we unfortunately played them in the very last game after playing five, six games in a row and it was rough. We have the potential to beat them,” Hines said. “They are a very classy team, very well-coached team, but we got there along with them.”
All game times are PDT.