Alumnus Justin Brown (No. 15) races to steal second base and avoid the tag of La Verne second baseman Sergio Munoz as first baseman Kevin Ibarra watches. As soon as Brown successfully stole the base, the alumni bullpen erupted with cheers.
Gearing up for its 2009 season, the University of La Verne baseball team played its annual alumni game, Saturday at Upland Memorial Park. In addition to the game, a charity event was being held benefiting the James and Theresa Ortega Children Memorial Fund.
James Ortega, a former La Verne baseball player who won Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors in 2004, and his sister Theresa Ortega started the fund after their parents, along with seven other family members, were murdered on Dec. 24, 2008.
A man dressed in a Santa outfit came to one of their family member’s homes and opened fire on those attending a Christmas party and then set fire to the house.
“We spent a lot of time mourning with James after Christmas. He is a big part of the ULV family and so it was easy getting people together to show our support,” head coach Scott Winterburn said. “It was touching for me and the rest of the coaching staff to see such a large number of past players coming out to support James.”
The festivities included the Laker Girls and Clipper Girls signing autographs as well as a silent auction featuring signed jerseys by former NFL quarterbacks Dan Marino and Joe Montana.
All of the donations and profits from the auction went directly to the fund.
In a surprise moment during the second inning, the mayor of Upland, John Pomierski, announced to the audience that an anonymous donor gave $5,000 to the charity. The money earned on the day was estimated to exceed $15,000.
The La Verne baseball team defeated the former Leopards in both games of the doubleheader.
The defending SCIAC champs are looking to defend their title with a new class of recruits as well as returning players.
“My goal every year is to win the national championship,” Winterburn said, “My expectations are to fill every position with solid players and then try and find ways to go out and win baseball games.”
Winterburn said that the team has lost speed from last year’s club so they are going to have to find new ways to get guys into scoring position. He added, however, the lineup features more power than last year, with the ability of each player to hit for extra bases.
“In this early stage of the season,” Winterburn said, “Our strength is toughness. Our guys play hard and the team works well together.”
“Guys who have been around for a couple of years now think we are as strong, if not stronger, throughout our lineup this year,” said Mike Belcher, junior outfielder. “We have a strong core of upperclassmen pitchers that we think is going to be one of our biggest strengths.”
The Leopards lost crucial seniors from last year’s team, but enjoyed a good recruiting class and have inserted returning players into positions that needed to be filled.
“The players we now have through recruitment are strong and will contribute in a big way to our team,” said Jon-Michael Hattabaugh, junior third baseman. “We just need to play as a team and as the season progresses, everything will come together and will put us in a good position to compete for another championship.”
The Leopards opened their season Feb. 4 with a 9-3 loss to San Diego Christian and a 3-1 loss to Cal Poly Pomona on Tuesday.
They continue their season against Pacific Lutheran at 2 p.m. Friday at Ben Hines Field.
Kevin Garrity can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.