Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Five to be Inducted into Area Hall of Fame


Indian and Latino athletes will be recognized and reservation ballplayers of the past will be honored.


 by Steve Moore The Press Enterprise-Morongo Indian Reservation


It's been more than a half-century since some of the guys took a cut at a fastball or kicked up a cloud of dust sliding into home plate.

But revered Indian sandlot ballplayers from the 1930s to the 1960s will receive honorable mention as five other athlete role models are inducted into the Southern California Latino / Native American Sports Hall of Fame. The names of some three dozen Morongo Reservation ballplayers will be called and their pictures displayed during a banquet.

"We need to educate our children, our community, the state and the nation that we have heroes too," said Tony Chavez, founder and director of the Hall of Fame.

Inductees who will be recognized at the banquet at Casino Morongo's bingo hall are:

  • Bobby Salgado: tribal chairman of the Soboba Band of Mission Indians. He played football at Mt. San Jacinto College and was asked to try out for the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Salgado also formed a men's fastpitch softball team on the reservation, which he coached and managed.

  • Robert Valdivia: part of a softball dynasty in Beaumont.

  • Norman Ruiz Sr.: longtime baseball and softball player and team manager from the Morongo Reservation.

  • Robert Salgado: elder from the Morongo Reservation and one of the original baseball and softball players from the 1930s.

  • Frank Corral: a punter for the Los Angeles Rams.

About 100 people have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Chavez said.

Dick Butkus, an NFL Hall of Fame member from the Chicago Bears, is scheduled to attend the event.

No tickets are being sold at the door.

Chavez started the Latino / Native American Sports Hall of Fame 18 years ago. A fund-raising drive is under way to rent space for its headquarters. Chavez wanted to honor and create role models, remembering great barrio ballplayers from the 1940s when he was a bat boy for his father's fastpitch softball team, the Casa Blanca Aces.

"You lived and died with your team," he said.

And it was the same on Indian reservations in the Inland area.

Tom Lyons, tribal vice chairman for the Morongo Indians, remembers spending weekends playing baseball on neighboring reservations. A hardscrabble field would be raked, cleared of rocks, dragged and lined for play. As more homes were built on the reservation, fields had to be moved.

Blue jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps were often uniforms. Teams kept score, but there were no league standings or batting records, Lyons said. Major league scouts sometimes checked out players in the Indian leagues.

"We just loved baseball," he said. "It was fun.

"And we saw all our relatives and friends traveling to other reservations."

Teams from several reservations, including Morongo, Soboba, Pechanga, San Manuel and Pala, played each other until Indian leagues waned in the late 1960s, Lyons said. Indian ballplayers then joined leagues in newly formed cities. Softball also gained popularity, he said.

Today, softball is big on the Morongo Reservation. There is a lighted softball field, with grass and dugouts. Indian youths also play Little League in Banning.

"We've got it all," Lyons said. "It's wonderful."




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