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D-backs’ Youth Jersey Program encourages kids

March 7, 2020

Los Ninos Little League president Sammy Rodriguez saw a young girl with a disappointed look on her face. She wasn’t interested in being at the Tucson-based league’s registration desk, and she certainly didn’t have any interest in participating in the upcoming youth baseball season. Hoping to change her mind, Rodriguez

Los Ninos Little League president Sammy Rodriguez saw a young girl with a disappointed look on her face. She wasn’t interested in being at the Tucson-based league’s registration desk, and she certainly didn’t have any interest in participating in the upcoming youth baseball season.

Hoping to change her mind, Rodriguez went into a back room to find a D-backs cap -- a memento to try to lift the girl’s spirits.

“I grabbed her one and said, ‘This is yours. This is what you are going to wear when you play,’” recalled Rodriguez. “That lit her up and once the regular season was over and fall ball came around, she was asking her mom when she was going to go play next.”

It’s memories like those that have stood out to Rodriguez, who oversees one of the 121 leagues throughout Arizona participating in the D-backs’ Give Back Youth Jersey Program this year. In partnership with Fry’s Food Stores, Tide and Steward Health, the initiative has supplied youth baseball and softball leagues like Los Ninos Little League with high-quality D-backs branded caps and jerseys since the program began in 2014.

Rodriguez’s Little League, in particular, has seen growth with help from the D-backs. Los Ninos was in danger of going under a few years ago, before Rodriguez came in as the head of the new board with members “starting from scratch,” in terms of acquiring equipment and getting kids to join their league.

Through the D-backs’ Give Back Youth Jersey Program, free uniforms help organizations like Los Ninos cut costs and reallocate funds to other areas, including paying for chalk for the foul lines and providing lower registration fees to encourage more kids to sign up.

“At first, it was scary. I asked myself what I was getting into, knowing what was presented to me and what we had to work with,” said Rodriguez. “But once people were signing up, it fills your heart, because there is so much potential and so many kids who want to play, and we give them the opportunity.”

Rodriguez first had to earn the trust of parents throughout the community. With some families already traveling to play in other Little Leagues in the area, Rodriguez had to prove to them that the program was sustainable, and that’s exactly what he did.

From 2018-19, registration doubled and more than 100 parent volunteer forms were filled out for 10 teams, meaning that there are plenty of would-be coaches and managers. The growth spurt not only stemmed from Rodriguez, but his board of volunteers, including Brandi Rodriguez, Cassandra Rodriguez, Scott Garcia, Francisco Rodriguez, Joel Garcia and Mayra Garcia. Together, they are continuing to help their Little League develop, as well as that of Tucson’s Las Ninas youth softball league that is also a member of the D-backs’ Give Back Youth Jersey Program.

Ultimately, the overall surge in participation has advanced over the last couple of years, in Tucson and beyond. From nearly not having a league to having flourishing participation, the D-backs were able to play a small part in a team effort that will impact 65,000 Little League players and coaches throughout Arizona this year.

“Baseball is big in Tucson. I appreciate all of the parent participation that we have been getting and really getting backed by the D-backs,” said Rodriguez. “They are a great organization and they aren’t just helping our league, but they are helping all of the leagues in Arizona. The things that they are doing, it’s phenomenal.”