In The Spotlight: Corona fastpitch legend, Jim “Chayo” Rodriguez

Written by Bob on September 5th, 2016
FRIENDS - These three gentlemen and fast friends have been around fastpitch for over 60 years each. From left, Jim "Chayo" Rodriguez, Alfonso Lechuga and John Maciel. Photo By BOB OTTO

FRIENDS – These three gentlemen and fast friends have been around fastpitch for over 60 years each. From left, Jim “Chayo” Rodriguez, Alfonso Lechuga and John Maciel. Photo By BOB OTTO

CORONA, Calif. – In 1941, 14-year-old Jim “Chayo” Rodriguez trotted on to a softball field and for nearly 40 years his prolific bat, tenacious defense and fierce desire to win, led his teams to league and tournament victories.

Rodriguez not only played fastpitch softball, but baseball as well on the ball diamonds of Corona, Riverside, Colton and San Bernardino.

Though he loved playing both sports – often five nights a week and in tournaments on the weekend – he finally settled for fastpitch.

    ALL THE SKILLS FOR FASTPITCH

The game required quick feet, a sure-handed glove and fast, accurate throws from his third base spot. And at the plate, Rodriguez’ quick, compact swing was ideally suited for a sport in which the pitcher throws 80-mph rise balls and drops from 46 feet.

Rodriguez played for several top-caliber fastpitch teams including Barto’s Washer, Wink’s Café and Lindy’s Red Devils.

In those days, fastpitch at Corona’s City Park drew hundreds of fans. The competition was fierce with many businesses, restaurants and taverns sponsoring teams.

But finally, the rigors of the game wore down his legs and throwing arm, convincing him it was time to retire. Though his bat argued otherwise.

“I retired at 50 from playing even though I could still hit,” said Rodriguez, who at 86, still loves the game and seldom misses any men or girls’ fastpitch in or around his hometown of Corona.

    COACHING THE CHICANOS

With his playing days over, Rodriguez had no thoughts about leaving the game. He just moved into the coaching box for the Corona Chicanos when his good friend John Perez, who managed the team, asked Rodriguez to join him.

One of the first players to play for Rodriguez was John Maciel, a versatile player that Rodriguez could put anywhere on the infield. Maciel remembers those bygone days of Chicanos’ fastpitch when the team was constantly on the go.

“You could go east, south, or west of Corona and find leagues and games,” said John Maciel. “Sometimes we played seven days a week; there was so much softball being played.”

And playing for Rodriguez?

“He was a coach who knew everything about the game,” Maciel said. “If you did something wrong, he would coach you about that and give you a push to be better. Everybody knew the Chicanos all over southern California.”

THE CHICANOS, THE PRIDE OF CORONA MEN'S FASTPITCH - In 1982 the Corona Chicanos had a very good ASA Class A fastpitch team and entered the tough Pacific Coast Softball League that featured ASA Class A National Tournament runner-up, the Savala Painters of Lakewood. The Chicanos had solid defense, good hitting and steady pitching. Though the Chicanos didn't win the PCSL, they competed well, and had a fine season finishing third in the Chicanos Class A tournament and defeating some of the top teams in So. Calif. Photo By Jerry Soifer / Daily Independent

THE CHICANOS, THE PRIDE OF CORONA MEN’S FASTPITCH – In 1982 the Corona Chicanos had a very good ASA Class A fastpitch team and entered the tough Pacific Coast Softball League that featured ASA Class A National Tournament runner-up, the Savala Painters of Lakewood. The Chicanos had solid defense, good hitting and steady pitching. Though the Chicanos didn’t win the PCSL, they competed well, and had a fine season finishing third in the Chicanos Class A tournament and defeating some of the top teams in So. Calif. Photo By Jerry Soifer / Daily Independent

    GREAT CHICANOS TOURNAMENTS

Soon enough, Rodriguez started his own tournaments – the Chicanos’ Labor Day and Memorial Day invitational’s that drew teams from San Diego to Orange County and Los Angeles. Winning the Chicanos’ tournament was considered a great feat as many top ASA Class A teams – upwards of 24 – fought for the championship.

And that included the Chicanos. But it took awhile.

“We didn’t win a championship for 10 years,” Rodriguez said with a chuckle. “We had that tournament for 21 years. It had good teams and drew big crowds.”

    THE PCSL CALLS

In 1982, Rodriguez took a huge step in Southern California fastpitch by entering his team in the Pacific Coast Softball League (PCSL), perhaps the strongest ASA Class A league in the U.S. It featured ASA Class A National Tournament runner-up Savala Painters of Lakewood, the Winston Oilers, Whittier Merchants, Signal Hill Oilers, Mississippi Music, and the Wilmington Bullets.

At the time Rodriguez wrestled with the decision to move his ball club up a class.

“The other managers in the league convinced me to join the league,” he said. “I didn’t think we would be in over our head. I thought we would be competitive. A few of the teams (gave) us trouble, the Savala Painters and Winston Electric and Signal Hill Oilers (but) we were competitive with the rest.”

That move up in classification and tougher competition helped the Chicanos finish third in their 1982 tournament against a strong field that included the champion Mississipi Music and Most Valuable Pitcher, Terry Richards, and the runner-up Colton Suns and pitcher Joe Lewis, who was named Most Valuable Player.

Rodriguez went on to manage the Chicanos for several years, but then took a step up in competition when he was asked to coach such state and national powerhouses as the Santa Ana Eagles and Lakewood Jets.

    FROM THE GUYS TO THE GALS

He coached with those teams for nearly eight years before moving into girls’ softball and coaching travel, high school and college teams.

In 2006, he helped coach Santiago High School to a CIF Division I championship, and for seven years he was an assistant coach with his son, Jim Rodriguez, at the University of California Riverside (UCR).

The difference between coaching men versus women?

“The girls were easier,” said Rodriguez with a grin. “They listen to you and do what you tell them.”

During his seven decades in the game, Rodriguez has seen much, experienced much and enjoyed much. He brought his sons Jim and Joey into the game. They both became talented players who played for him, and for other top teams in Southern California.

    ENTERS THE HALLOWED HALL

In 1989, Rodriguez was inducted into the Hispanic Hall of Fame for his many contributions as a softball and baseball player and manager. Fastpitch was good to him and he was good for fastpitch from those early days in the 1940s to the mid-2000s when he finally retired.

“I enjoyed the playing and coaching,” Rodriguez said while at the Raymond Angulo Memorial Men’s Fastpitch Tournament. “A lot of my (former) Chicanos’ players are now dads and grandfathers with sons and grandsons playing. I wouldn’t change anything, I loved it.”

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. cresencio ramos says:

    If you still have Fast-pitch tourney’s, please contact me at 913-999-4367 or 913-200-9675 I’ve played the game 24 years, 6 regionals undefeated, 1 National Title in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1988 we won Class B. In 1989 we placed 5 the in class A, should have won that one too. I have a crew of about 6 Latin umpires who speak Spanish & English. We have worked ASA, 10 NAFA World Tournaments. We travel about 12 States, we would love to come down there & meet new umps & ballplayers & fans.Pass this # along to who ever is having tournaments. God Bless You !! Hope to hear from you very soon.. Going to the Quad Cities to do the NAFA Masters this coming weekend. Next April going to Las Vegas, Nevada, & Cancun, Mexico for Big Latin Tourneys.

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