Marco Alcantara stood on the foul territory of the Sunnyside Major Little League baseball field at Mission Manor Park and looked at the infield the way a community elder would marvel with pride at his neighborhood.
Alcantara grew up at this park on the southside on 12th Avenue between Drexel Boulevard and Bilby Road playing Tucson Youth Football for the Rams and competing on the very baseball field in front of him more than 40 years ago.
“I have a lot of fond memories here,” said Alcantara, who graduated from Sunnyside High School in 1982.
“This is like home to me.”
Alcantara has worked with the Tucson Parks and Recreation for almost three decades, including as the Parks Supervisor the last three years.
He knew of the poor condition of the Majors’ baseball field and the adjacent softball field. He made it a point to sway the parks and recreation department to finally do something about it.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down teams from practicing and playing games this spring, Alcantara wanted to take advantage of the time to renovate the fields.
“We had done some renovations to the ball fields on the eastside,” Alcantara said. “When this opened up and we were having discussions on what fields we were going to renovate, I just kind of threw it in the hat.
“I said, ‘You know what? We just don’t give any love to the southside. They’re representing.’ I said, ‘It’s time.'”
No other Little League organization in Tucson has achieved more state champions at the Majors level — which advances to the Little League World Series — than Sunnyside.
Sunnyside has won five state titles, including the last two years. Last year’s team captured the attention of Tucsonans by advancing to the West regional final, one game from Williamsport, Pa., before losing to Hawaii.
Nogales also has five state titles, matching Sunnyside for the most in Southern Arizona
Southern Arizona State Little League Majors Champs
Multiple state champions:
Sunnyside (5): 2019, 2018, 1991, 1984, 1979
Nogales (5): 1988, 1987, 1985, 1980, 1978
Tucson American (4): 1997, 1983, 1967, 1959
Tucson Western (3): 1992, 1981, 1964
Cactus (3): 1974, 1973, 1960
Sahuaro (2): 1968, 1963
Sunnyside’s 12-and-under softball team won the 2013 Little League World Series title, nationally televised on ESPN. Annually until this year, the successful program has practiced at Mission Manor on a baseball field with grass covering the infield. A raised pitcher’s mound was in the infield instead of a pitching circle.
“The president (of Sunnyside Little League, Manny Rodriguez) had been requesting to change the field into a legitimate softball field for a while,” Alcantara said. “I said, ‘You know what? Let me just go ahead. There’s time right now. We’re kind of at a standstill right now because of COVID-19. Let’s do it.'”
Alcantara and his crew took out the turf and laid fresh dirt in the infield. They adjusted the irrigation system to specs. They also replaced the bases and home plate and put a new pitching anchor in the circle.
“Now the girls can actually practice and play on a softball field here,” Alcantara said. “Right after we finished the softball field, the city extended the closure of the parks, so we were like, ‘You know what? Let’s move on to the Majors baseball field here.'”
The renovation on each field took about two weeks to complete.
“Same thing with the baseball field, we took out all the turf because it was really beat up. We threw in new sod. We moved the irrigation and we put in a new pitcher’s mound,” Alcantara said. “We also re-sodded going out approximately 10 feet around the back radius of the infield. The reason why we do that, when they are manning the field, the dirt gets kicked out to the outfield. Dirt gets built up and the grass grows through it so it becomes a hump all the way around. We wanted to eliminate that.”
Alcantara and his crew also worked on the aesthetics of both fields painting Sunnyside’s logo with two S’s in blue behind the pitcher’s mound and in the pitcher’s circle, in front of home plate and in the on-deck circles. They also relined the fields and added a blue foul line in the outfield.
The irony of the fields looking so pristine, none of the teams are able to practice or play on them because of the park closures. That may change Monday, the most recent reopening date in mayor Regina Romero’s latest emergency proclamation.
“The fields turned out really nice; we gave them that little extra love with the two S’s — we never do that,” Alcantara said. “We just wanted to give a little love to the old ‘hood.”
Here are some more photos of the softball and baseball fields with the first being the crew that gave them the love Alcantara talked about:
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.