The Northern California Little League Baseball Championships kicked off Thursday night for local 10-year-olds as the Turlock American All Stars met the Turlock National All Stars in the first game of the District 73 Tournament. But While most parents settled into the stands at Julien Field eager to watch their kids play, at least a dozen Turlock National parents stood on the adjacent sidewalk in anger, protesting their league board’s decision to forego the purchase of All Star jerseys for this year’s tournament.
Led by Tyler Eggleston, head coach of the Turlock National Dodgers, the group held up signs that questioned the vote to purchase All-Star hats instead of jerseys and demanded answers as to why the decision was made.
“Under my knowledge, this is the first year that the All Star team hasn’t had jerseys,” Eggleston said. “I don’t understand. It wasn’t necessarily a money issue because they have 80 grand in the bank.”
The decision not to purchase All Star jerseys was made during a May 6 meeting that, according to board member Brandy Camren, ended in a 5-3 vote.
“It wasn’t a decision that had anything to do with lack of finances,” Camren said, adding that she voted to buy the jerseys. “This season it was brought to the table that we should have the players wear their regular season jerseys and then get them really nice hats. So as a board we all came to the table, it was discussed, and the motion was passed.
“It wasn’t because we didn’t want to spend the money, and it wasn’t because I said the players don’t need jerseys,” she added.
Board member Ralph Serpa, who introduced the motion, insisted that despite the uproar, this kind of decision is not unprecedented.
“If you really want to go back, when the league was started in ’55, what they’re wearing now is actually the tradition. The oddity is the full-blown, completely new uniform,” Serpa said. “There are several board members who are more frugal than others, not as free-spending, and they watch the pennies.”
According to Serpa, the board came to their decision not to buy jerseys in an effort to help offset renovation costs, for both past and future projects, at Soderquist Park where the National teams play their regular season games.
“Over the last 10 years we’ve spent $75,000 for Soderquist lights, brand new lights, modern lights. And we have plans in the future to make that ballpark even better,” Serpa said. “You don’t want to end up on zero every year, especially if you have plans to grow and make things better.”
Although not set in stone or formally planned, those future improvements include dedicated bathroom facilities, a new concession stand and dugout repairs, among other things, with the estimated cost of the bathrooms alone surpassing the $100,000 mark.
Still, Eggleston remains skeptical.
“I totally understand where they’re coming from if that was the case, but that’s not what the board told us,” Eggleston said. “The reasoning was that they already met three times and didn’t want to do it a fourth time.
“When you have $80,000 in the bank account I don’t see how $1,500 for all the jerseys would effect that,” he added.
While some voiced their anger at the initial vote not to purchase jerseys, others were frustrated with another decision that barred all five National teams from wearing jerseys that were purchased via donations from parents and coaches.
“The kids were bummed out about the jerseys, they were upset. The 10-year-olds all the way up to the 13 and 14-year-olds,” head coach of the 10-year-old National All-Star team Harpreet Thind said.
“Something’s going on. It doesn’t make sense to me that if someone is willing to donate something and they’re going to pay for it, that they would say no. What does it hurt by having a kid have an All Star jersey?” Eggleston said.
According to Camren, however, that decision was not made by the National board.
“We had coaches who sought donations on their own, without permission, and per the Little League rule book the uniforms that the players wear must be league issued,” Camren said. “Williamsport actually called and told us that if one of our players stepped foot on the field with one of those jerseys, none of us would be playing in All Stars.”