Sports

Shawn Jansen: Easter tourney turns 50

Shawn Jansen
Shawn Jansen

ATWATER -- Colton Beatty doesn't know if the hole is still in the fence at Memorial Ballpark.

It was a special hole for Beatty as a kid.

It was his secret pathway to a baseball wonderland.

When he was 7 years old, Beatty and a couple of his buddies would climb through the hole down the right-field line to sneak into Memorial to watch the Atwater-Winton Lions Easter Baseball Tournament.

"We'd sneak in and stay all day," Beatty said. "We'd watch three or four games.

"It was fun watching for me because I knew one day I'd be playing in the tournament."

Beatty doesn't have to sneak in anymore.

His uniform gets him in free of charge.

The Atwater senior will be playing in his fourth tournament when it gets underway on April 13.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tournament.

"This tournament is part of Atwater," Atwater baseball coach Jarrod Pimentel said. "I know it's a two-high-school town now, but I think the tournament is one thing the whole town looks forward to."

This year will mark the 10th year I've covered the tournament and it's one of the highlights of the prep baseball season.

This year should be special as the tournament organizers are honoring former Atwater coaches, past tournament queens and Larry Silva Award winners, which is a sportsmanship award given to an Atwater player each year.

The ceremony will take place before Atwater plays Livingston on the opening night of the tournament.

The tournament is believed to be the oldest running Easter tournament in the state.

It was started by former Atwater coach Fran Oneto.

Oneto, who went on to become a Major League Baseball scout, started the tournament to give local schools somewhere to play during spring break.

Some of baseball's biggest names over the past 50 years have played in the tournament, including Randy Johnson, Joe Rudi and Tom Seaver.

One of the top performances ever turned in was by former Gustine pitcher Jim Willoughby.

In 1967, before there were limits on how many innings pitchers could throw, Willoughby led Gustine to the tournament title by winning all four games on the mound.

Willoughboy went on to pitch for the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox.

The tournament has definitely given every Atwater player something to look forward to every year.

There's an electric atmosphere at the park when a big crowd shows up and you're taking the field under the lights.

"The tournament has a lot of tradition," Pimentel said. "I remember going to the games as a kid with my dad and then playing in it when I was in high school.

"I hear my players talking about it already. It's something they really look forward to every year."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

More Info

WHAT: Atwater-Winton Lions Easter Baseball Tournament at Memorial Ballpark in Atwater.

WHEN: April 13-16.

TEAMS: Atwater, Livingston, Carson, Nev., Moreau, Central Catholic, Waterford, Linden, Patterson.

NOTE: Tournament director, Don Ballenger, is trying to contact all the past tournament queens and Larry Silva Award winners. If you haven't been contacted, call Ballenger at 358-0347 or 357-3441.

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