Athlete-run nonprofit hopes to reinvigorate Guadalupe's baseball program

Guadalupe used to have a thriving little league baseball program, longtime locals say. Now the city’s ball fields stand in various states of disrepair. That has begun to change though, now that the city has caught the attention of a nonprofit devoted to spreading a passion for baseball.

Concord-based More Than a Game caught wind of Guadalupe’s dwindling baseball fields and sent volunteers to refurbish the baseball diamond at Kermit McKenzie Jr. High School. The group identifies cities in need all over the world and helps provide fields on which to play the game. When complete, the volunteers—all former college or professional players, host a clinic for the city’s youth. That’s exactly what they did in Guadalupe just a few weeks ago.

click to enlarge Athlete-run nonprofit hopes to reinvigorate Guadalupe's baseball program
DIRTY WORK: Athlete-volunteers from nonprofit More Than a Game worked to get the baseball diamond at McKenzie Jr. High School ready for play. Along with weekly baseball clinics, they hope to reinvigorate the city’s baseball program.

McKenzie Jr. High School Principal Gabriel Solorio said he’s only been in Guadalupe for about four years but knows that the city used to have an active youth baseball program. “Now they have to drive to Santa Maria or Orcutt if kids want to play. There’s nowhere to play here in Guadalupe,” he said, adding, “When they [More Than a Game] called me and said they wanted to do this I said, ‘Oh yeah, heck yeah,’”

More Than a Game site director and San Luis Obispo native Josh Miller was the one who matched the nonprofit with Guadalupe. Miller coaches baseball at San Luis Obispo High School and had coached Solorio’s son. Miller’s own father happened to be at the same game and met Solorio and mentioned that Miller was looking for a community project on the Central Coast. Solorio told him about Guadalupe. After that game Miller called Solorio and asked if he’d be interested in having More Than a Game volunteers come out and get involved in the community. It was a match.

As soon as Miller began to learn more about the community, the need for not only more fields but a ball program became obvious.

“What we’ve heard from talking to people who are involved in baseball and softball in the area is it’s really hard for parents here to commute because a lot of them are working in the fields, they’re working long days and the last thing they want to do is drive 25 minutes to go play at the end of the day. So hopefully we can open a program so local baseball, local softball can flourish,” Miller said. 

Miller said that with about 800 students at the school, and a new development going in the city, he hopes to grow the program to a point where there’s a need and desire for the city to have a league of its own. 

To start, they needed a field. 

Marshall Murray, founder and CEO of More Than a Game, said when the group evaluated the field at McKenzie Jr. High, it wasn’t playable, so they quickly got to work.

“We pride ourselves in getting in there and doing the work ourselves. So we’re going to get in there, we’re going to go gung ho, and we’re going to make this happen,” Murray told the Sun as the crew worked on the field. 

Their commitment goes beyond the physical work it takes to build the field, Murray explained. They also take pride in inspiring and building relationships in the community. 

On one of the days they were scheduled to perform work on the McKenzie Jr. High baseball diamond, they traded work with Buena Ventura Farms. The athlete volunteers spent the morning picking strawberries, and in return the farming company brought out a much-needed roller to harden the field. And because there was no irrigation on the field, the fire department came out to water it down for the volunteers. 

“We’re building relationships and leveraging professional athletes to help grow and build sport within communities,” Murray said. 

Professional, former professional, and college athletes comprise the More Than a Game work crew including Miller’s brother, Michael, a former Cal Poly player who just got pulled up to the Boston Red Sox this year, but took time out to spread some dirt and offer some baseball tips to Guadalupe kids. As they do with other cities, when they completed the field they held a clinic, which Solorio said attracted about 30 youths. 

Miller decided he didn’t want to stop with just the one clinic. He wanted to continue to inspire youth to play the game, so he now hosts weekly clinics at the school Wednesdays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Solorio said many parents have expressed excitement about the new field. He said that next year he hopes to add new grass as well. 

“So then there will be a whole new outfield. Good things are happening,” Solorio said. 

CNN will include the nonprofit’s work at the school in an upcoming feature that will air sometime after Christmas, Solorio said. The news outlet sent a team to film volunteers as they worked on the baseball diamond and interview More Than a Game representatives and school staff. 

Contact Editor Shelly Cone at [email protected].

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