CORONA, Calif – Men’s fastpitch softball has fallen on hard times in Southern California since its heyday of the 1950s to late 1980s. Some call the sport’s demise a free fall headed for extinction. Some have already issued its death sentence.
But you won’t hear such dire verdicts coming from Ernie Marez of Corona. For 11 years he has held spring and winter leagues, and the annual Ray Angulo Memorial Tournament, in honor of his late father-in-law, a fastpitch pitcher, who passed away in 2000.
He does all this – plus manage his own team – to keep the sport alive and help it grow in Corona.
“We want to get more people interested,” said Marez, “and keep it going.”
Marez says he’s not a lone warrior in his efforts. He credits Corona’s legendary manager Jim “Chayo” Rodriguez and John Perez of the Corona Chicanos, Ruben Marmolejo, Robert “Budda” Ward, Manny Echeveste, and several others like David Valdivia, who manages the Beaumont Coyotes for stepping up in the struggle to save the sport.
The winter league is currently underway and will run into December. Four teams are playing – the Chicanos, Red Line, Manny’s Crew and Marez’s So. Calif. Rebels. With guest appearances from the Beaumont Coyotes.
League play is held Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. at Promenade Park in Corona. The teams also play in tournaments – primarily on the Indian reservations of Soboba, Morongo, Pala, and Rincon, Marez said.
He praises Native Americans for their love and devotion to the sport.
“We played in a tournament at Pala and they had 11 teams,” he said. “And we’ve played in tournaments that had 16 teams. They are developing a lot of good young players and pitchers on the reservations.”
The Pala Reservation team has long played in the NAFA World Series and is considered one of the stronger teams in Southern California.
GOOD LEAGUE FOR BEGINNERS
As far as developing players in the Corona – Riverside – San Bernardino area, Marez says his league offers a good venue for young players to learn the sport.
“We’re an (ASA Class C) league and we’re good for developing players,” Marez said. “The younger guys like the sport because of the competition.”
Marez would like to expand his league from four to six teams. He realizes that he and his league, and his Corona fastpitch collegues alone cannot bring the sport back to its prominence in Southern California, but instead he has set a more achievable goal.
“I just want to keep it going,” he said.
The winter and spring leagues are low cost. The entry fee is $280, with additional game fees of $30 for umpire fees and $20 for a scorekeeper.
For more information about the league and the Ray Angulo Memorial Tournament, contact Marez at 951-377-3364 and visit the league’s website at: Major League Softball / Corona Men’s Fastpitch League
To watch games, Promenade Park is located at 615 Richey St., Corona, Calif.