On an empty lot at Maine Avenue near the rodeo grounds in Lakeside, I find Power Surge Chavez, a fastpitch softball team of ten-year-old girls that practice twice a week, attend conditioning on another two days and often play six-game tournaments on weekends.
Four of the girls live in Lakeside. The team has only 11 members, but players have attended faithfully. So far, during the 2018 season, they have been able to put 9 players on the field for each of their games.
When I first encounter them on June 17, the day before Father’s Day, they are neither playing nor practicing, though not kicking back either. The girls are raising money through an old fashioned car wash and bake sale. On the following weekend, they will play the Red, White and Blue tournament in Laguna Niguel, Orange County.
Power Surge San Diego fields youth softball teams in “travel ball,” a generic name for the highly competitive world of far flung tournaments that showcase players’ skills, giving them an advantage in eventually obtaining college scholarships. Age brackets go as high as 18 and under, but 10 and under is where it starts.
Lakeside resident Hunter Alvarez, whose daughter Harley plays shortstop and left field, wants me to know how expensive team play is. “Just to have my daughter on the team,” he says, “I pay $130 per month. Then there is all the gas for driving to tournaments, overnight lodging, and my missed work.”
Alvarez, a construction worker, is not a rich man. But he justifies the cost by because he wants his daughter to get going on a disciplined activity that he missed during an earlier rough period in his own life.
Neither bake sales and car washes nor parental contributions cover the daunting costs Power Surge Chavez faces to compete. The Triple Crown tournament the team has registered to play in from July 9 thru 14 in Park City, Utah, [4, 2] has an entry fee of $1875. When, the following week, they compete in the American Fastpitch Association national championship in Fontana, California [did not finish in top 4], they will pay $1295. The team has registered for the tournament already after their win/loss record this year qualified them.
So Alvarez, who is the team’s fundraising coordinator, takes advantage of every opportunity he can. He is quick to credit other parents for helping out. Together they have obtained help from the Lakeside Optimists and the El Capitan Rodeo Association. And through funds2orgs, they have mounted Shoe Drives. “A hundred bags of shoes, at 25 in each, nets $1000,” Alvarez tells me.
He estimates that his fundraising group has raised about $5500 to date this year.
One thing Power Surge Chavez does not have to pay is a salary, or hourly wages, to its coaches. “They volunteer their time and don’t have children on the team,” Alvarez maintains proudly. “We don’t play daddy ball,” he says in reference to coaches who have a child on their team. “The girls have to try out to make a Power Surge team, and they can come from anywhere. That makes the play very competitive.”
The team practices at several different fields across San Diego, says Coach Melissa Forrester, but most of the time at Hickman Field in Kearny Mesa.
I attend one of the Hickman practices. Down in the left field corner, Forrester is pitching batting practice in a batting cage. In tournament play the girls are not likely to see pitching this fast. Forrester was a pitcher at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa during her college years. She started playing softball when she was five.
On the diamond, the infield practice session moves quickly and is well organized. The girls are kept moving fielding ground balls, throwing across the diamond, and turning double plays.
Coaches Ryan and Alicia Chavez take turns hitting the grounders to all the infield positions. They both chide and encourage after balls are missed or bobbled. “Dig it out,” yells Ryan to one of the girls who lets a ball slip under her glove and into the outfield. Later he shouts “great play” in response to a difficult catch and throw.
Ten-year-olds have better throwing arms than I would have imagined. The greater level of competition than that found in recreational softball seems to have developed their strength.
In one drill, the coaches stage a steal of second base. A temporary pitcher sends a pitch home, the runner on first takes off and the catcher throws to second. The exercise adds a bit of suspense to practice. Sometimes the runner is tagged out, while other times she kicks up the dust sliding in safe.
I find the coaching almost professional, and it makes me wonder if it truly is volunteer. Maybe, maybe not, is what a query to Power Surge San Diego’s president Scott Berndes suggests. “Some coaches are paid and some are volunteer,” he emails me back. “Depends on team and what the team wants. We recruit them and they are approved by me.”
Coach Alicia Chavez has not been answering my phone calls. So my nosiness makes me want to try some hardball. By text, I asked for a simple yes or no, paid or not.
“No,” she texts in return. “Coaches are volunteer.”
At practice, Hunter Alvarez tells me, “Coach Alicia gave birth not too long ago. That lady sitting over there,” he adds, pointing toward the bleachers, “is holding her baby.”
Despite the coaching and hard work, Power Surge Chavez fared poorly at the Red, White and Blue tournament in Laguna Niguel, according to the tournament’s official posting. They lost 3 out of 4 games. But won 4 and lost 2 in Park City. The American Fastpitch tournament in Fontana reported only that Power Surge Chavez did not finish in the top 4.