Disappointment for a Little League juggernaut

The Santa Fe Little League softball team for girls ages 10 to 12 was disqualified from postseason play. The announcement from Little League’s Southwest Region headquarters in Waco, Texas, didn’t give a reason. Courtesy photo

What a weekend it should have been for the resurgent Santa Fe Little League.

The storied organization was on its deathbed for the last couple of years, unable to attract many players. This season marked a breakthrough.

About 300 boys and girls played in the Santa Fe Little League, double the number from last year.

Better still, parents and patrons knew they had one terrific team that seemed sure to bring the league attention from across the region.

Santa Fe’s Little League softball team for girls ages 10 to 12 was a powerhouse. It had a record of 12-0, and most games were such blowouts they were cut short by the mercy rule.

Boosters just spent $800 on new uniforms for this team, pride of the league. They also stocked the concession stand in anticipation of a crowd gathering at Alto Park to watch the girls begin qualifying play for next month’s state tournament, which Santa Fe was supposed to host.

Then the girls’ season crashed to an end before the first windmill pitch could be thrown.

Little League’s Southwest Region headquarters in Waco, Texas, announced in cryptic fashion Friday night that the Santa Fe team had been disqualified from postseason competition.

Aaron Ortiz, a vice president of the Santa Fe Little League, received an email saying the team was declared ineligible. Worse, there was no chance to appeal. District play was to begin Saturday morning.

“I haven’t been given a specific explanation,” Ortiz said. “I haven’t gotten a call back from the Waco office.”

He and the coaches could only speculate as to why the team was ousted.

Earlier in the season, questions arose about whether Santa Fe had broken a league rule by fielding “an intact team,” meaning one stacked with talent that had played together all year.

This wasn’t the case. Only 15 girls between the ages of 9 and 12 turned out for Santa Fe’s Little League softball program. With such a small roster to begin with, head coach Maria Cedillo saw no choice but to field just one team. Larger Little Leagues pick all-stars from various teams to field their postseason contender.

Cedillo said her players were as dedicated as kids could be. They practiced three times a week and played at least twice weekly against teams from the region’s other Little Leagues.

Two 9-year-olds were on Cedillo’s team. The Santa Fe Little League didn’t have a team in their own age bracket, so they were added to the roster with the older girls.

Only a hard-hearted organization would have sidelined 9-year-olds because they had no league of their own.

Plus, filling out the roster with younger kids could hardly be seen as a competitive advantage.

A primary goal of youth sports programs such as Little League is to get kids on the field, away from their phones and computers. Ortiz wasn’t about to tell little girls they couldn’t play ball just because they were younger than the rest.

The players couldn’t mask their disappointment at being bounced from the competition.

“I was really looking forward to playing in the district tournament and state, too,” said Leah Gutierrez, a pitcher.

Mia Duran, a catcher, said the season shouldn’t have ended this way.

“We were hardworking, and we worked together,” she said.

Ortiz and other Santa Fe Little League executives had pushed for the city to host the girls’ state softball tournament starting July 12.

Now, he said, the location probably will be moved.

The Santa Fe Little League was lining up volunteers to help stage the tournament. But with the hometown team disqualified, Santa Fe would have a harder time getting people to the ballpark, he said.

Finances are another problem. Coming up with the money to cover the cost of supplies, plus dragging and chalking the field after each game, has become more difficult.

Ortiz, a sergeant with the Santa Fe Police Department, did much of the organizational work for the Little League in between patrol shifts.

“I’m hard-headed, so I’ll be back,” he said.

He’s setting a good example for his best team.

The girls thought they had a good shot to go all the way to Waco for the regional tournament.

As much as it hurts to be eliminated for reasons not yet explained, they know Ortiz is right.

There’s always next season.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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