May 29, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: After two-year pause, Irvine Pony Memorial Day Tourney returns for 30th anniversary

A team from Costa Mesa takes part in Thursday’s opening ceremonies. (Photos: OC Sports Zone, Tim Burt).

The expressions of happiness on the young baseball players and their coaches was evident Thursday night as they walked out onto the field at Harvard Park for Irvine Pony Baseball’s Memorial Day Tournament, which returned after a two-year pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Opening ceremonies were held to start the tournament, which continues at baseball parks throughout the city through Monday. League officials had been planning the 30th anniversary of the event for three years, but it was postponed twice due to COVID.

“It just shows the resiliency of our baseball community,” said Irvine Pony President JD Hardin. “It’s just so glad to be back out here finally again and just as strong as we were back in 2019, which is a miracle. We wanted to make sure we had it, that 30th anniversary was the most important one for us.

“We got a full slate for the whole weekend. We have 220 plus teams, we’re just really excited.”

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

The league resumed play in the spring but this summer will be the first full summer of competition since the pandemic, said Stacie Sloniger, tournament director.

“It’s good to be back and it’s good to have the kids back doing something they love to do and we love to watch,” she said.

Of the 223 teams, eight are from Mexico with the rest from Orange County and throughout the state, Sloniger added.

“It’s good to be back with some baseball and let these guys get back to some regular activity,” Sloniger said.

At Thursday’s event, the annual parade of teams was held. Irvine Boy Scout Troop 675 presented the colors before the Pledge of Allegiance. A group of women sang the Mexican National Anthem.

Then Hardin welcomed the players and their families. Irvine Mayor Farrah N. Khan and Councilmember Larry Agran also spoke.

Fernando Hernandez Rubio, President of the Sinaloa Association of Baseball A.C., expressed his appreciation to league officials for once again inviting teams from Mexico. He was joined by Pablo Vasquez, Founder, Foundation PV20 A.C.

Former Irvine Pony player Keil Lavington, who played for the USA team in 1996 in Hermosillo, Mexico and played for Mexico in the 1999 Pony tournament, threw out the first pitch to Rubio.

Games will be held at 38 fields in Irvine, including the league’s home field, Harvard Park and Ryan Lemmon Stadium.

There will be 468 games during the weekend and each team is guaranteed four games, Sloniger said.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com