Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Well, spring is definitely in the air, and for kids across America that means only one thing: baseball. The smell of fresh cut grass and leather mitts reminds all of a simpler time, when life’s big decisions came down to whether to try to steal second base.
Perhaps that is why, year after year, the Ramona Baseball Invitational has grown to become a perfectly good reason to stay in town each Memorial Day weekend. According to Doug Ford, Ramona PONY Baseball president, this year’s tournament will feature 48 teams from across San Diego County: PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youths) Baseball teams, Little League Baseball teams and various traveling teams.
The six divisions that make up the tournament are: Pinto (7 to 8 years old), Mustang (9 to 10 years old), Bronco 11 (11 years old), Bronco 12 (11 to 12 years old), Pony 13 (13 years old), and Pony 14 (13 and 14 years old). The tournament is set up with a Pool Play Seeding system, ensuring that each team will get to play a minimum of three games. As Ford says, “Nobody wants to go 0-2 and then barbecue for two days. The teams want to be in the action for as long as possible.”
With the system currently in place, most teams will be playing well into Sunday morning.
Games will be hosted on eight fields in Ramona Community Park, including two fields at the Adult Softball complex. Temporary fencing will be brought in to those two fields to convert them to the proper dimensions in the outfield. This aspect of the event is being overseen by Willie Wilson of Ramona. Wilson, field director for Ramona PONY Baseball, has earned praise from his colleagues for his hard work and dedication to not only the Invitational, but to Ramona baseball overall.
The past 12 months have seen some pretty major renovations to the Ramona PONY Baseball fields, including new Pro Gold infield dirt on the four infields, infields that have been professionally laser leveled, new black fence shade screen is on all fields, a yellow fence cap on all fields, new distance markers on all fields, new 6-foot home run fence on Pony and Bronco fields, new professional grade foul poles on all fields, new 12-foot warning track on Pony and Bronco fields, electronic scoreboards on Mustang, Bronco and Pony fields, professionally rebuilt pitching mounds, and all infields have been professionally detailed to league specifications for grand arcs, infield grass and pitching mounds. So just like the kids, the fields are ready for action.
Another tireless supporter of this weekend’s event, and Ramona PONY Baseball, is May Rowles, who manages the concession stand at the ballfields. The concession stand was recently renovated, thanks to a significant donation from Webb Construction, and it now offers every baseball snack a fan can think of, including hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, french fries, hamburgers, and Rowle’s weekly specials, which have included tri-tip sandwiches, carne asada burritos, breakfast burritos, homemade tuna fish sandwiches, and more. Rowle’s amazing menu, along with her dedication, have led to record-breaking revenues year after year, said Ford.
Ramona Baseball Invitational has become a ritual for families not just in Ramona, but around the county.
“Many baseball leagues have made the Ramona Baseball Invitational a tradition,” said Ford. “They spend all weekend at our fields playing baseball, camping in their trailers and RVs and enjoying the fun and exciting atmosphere.”
Teams and families are encouraged to arrive Thursday night, May 21, and camp there for the duration of the tournament. The days are filled with baseball and sunshine, and each night features cookouts, raffles, side events and lots of other family-oriented fun.
Friday night will feature a Home Run Derby in which players from all age groups and divisions can attempt to show off their prowess at the plate with a chance to win some spectacular prizes donated by local retailers and sponsors. Saturday night is the big Group Barbecue, where teammates and rivals alike can sit back, relax and enjoy each other’s company. Saturday night is Movie Night, when one field will be turned into an outdoor movie experience for the evening, always a hit with the kids.
Speaking about the logistics involved in staging such a large event, Ford said, “Our tournament committee is comprised of volunteers that have taken time away from their duties at work and home to help pull off this year’s tournament. They really are amazing people.”
Ford knows a thing or two about organizing baseball tournaments. This year is the 27th Annual Memorial Day Weekend Tournament, a tradition started by Ford’s parents, who sat on the board of directors for the first Ramona Baseball Invitational. Ford grew up on the Ramona PONY Baseball fields, playing under managers like John Sturgeon, who Ford refers to as a “local baseball celebrity.” Continuing the tradition, Ford’s oldest son will be playing in this year’s RBI tournament, and his middle son is starting his first season of recreational baseball this year.
Whether you have kids playing in this year’s tournament or not, the weekend’s events promise great food, fun, and some entertaining baseball for fans of all ages. Come on out and smell the fresh cut grass.