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Apr, 2018

Refugio Little League makes comeback after Harvey

REFUGIO — Clifton Robinson has been a Little League umpire for 20 years, but he thought he might not step on the field this season.

Robinson returned to his hometown after Hurricane Harvey and had a hard time grasping what he saw.

“I came by here and I said, ‘Holy mackerel, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” “Robinson recalled. “I cried. I literally cried. I played on this field when I was a boy, and I’ve never seen so much devastation. The dugouts were gone, the light poles were down, the backstops were all down.”

Ryan Linney, the Little League president, and his wife, Melissa, the Little League secretary/treasurer, had much the same reaction.

“I wasn’t really worried about the house,” Ryan Linney said. “I was worried about my second home here. I drove up to that press box at the girls field, and it was nothing but a shell left. I started looking around at all the other things and thought there is no way we’re going to play baseball this year.”

The Linneys weren’t about to give up and after evacuating to Raymondville, began the process of bringing Little League back to the city.“

I started getting on Twitter, a fundraising campaign,” Ryan Linney said. “I started reaching out to every professional organization I could, just to get something to start a fundraising campaign. Twitter has helped us, Facebook has helped us. Dick’s showed up at our door wanting to help us. We’ve been blessed.”

The blessing was in full view on an overcast Saturday morning when the Linneys stood on the field and watched opening ceremonies take place.

“I’ve got to tell you, I got a little choked up,” Ryan Linney said. “I’m about to get choked up now. Seeing these, the smiles on these kids faces, is why I do this. A lot of these kids lost everything. They lost it all. People sent equipment for these kids to play. We just passed it out, and it lights up the world.”

The work started in September as Little League volunteers redid the field and rebuilt the dugouts and press boxes.

Donations poured in from community members and from around the state and the country.

Dick’s Sporting Goods came through with a grant of $115,000, the Rebuild Texas Fund contributed $50,000, the Corpus Christi Hooks agreed to pay the registration fee for every player, and major donations were received from the Nolan Ryan Foundation, H-E-B, Valero and the Joel Kay family.

Donations were also received from Sam Houston State baseball coach Matt Deggs, the Victoria East and Victoria West baseball teams and as far away as Loveland, Colo.

Adrian Williams, whose father Jeff is a Refugio native, donated a check Saturday on behalf of Victoria Baseball Fanatics.

Refugio city councilman Lenny Azaldua emceed the ceremonies, which included Refugio Elementary School third-grader Adrianna Lara singing the national anthem and representatives from Dick’s, the Rebuild Texas Fund and Hooks mascot Sammy Seagull throwing out the ceremonial first pitches for baseball and softball.

“I talked to Ryan and he said, ‘We’re going to play baseball,’” Robinson said. “Volunteers have come up here day in and day out seven days a week and work on this field. I love them. They did a heck of a job.”

Many residents were dealing with the aftereffects of Harvey but still donated time and money to ensure Little League baseball and softball would return.

“It was wonderful,” said Sherry Sparks, who headed up the local fundraising. “I was a little concerned about that when I started asking people for money. They were so generous, they really were. Even when I set up to sell raffle tickets, I’d had people come by and just give cash. I’d say, ‘Please let me give you a raffle ticket,’ and they’d say, ‘No, just take it.’”

Linney, who along with his wife teaches in the Refugio school district, played Little League baseball and has always been a baseball fan.

“I grew up loving baseball,” he said. “My idol growing up was Nolan Ryan (who was born in Refugio). Since I was little, I loved baseball. It’s just a passion of mine. I played on these fields when I was a kid, and I want to make it better than when I was a kid.”

The hard work by the volunteers paid off as 234 baseball and softball players are involved on 21 teams this season.

“It gives me chill bumps,” Sparks said. “These kids, this is their thing. This is what you have to do in Refugio. Really, a lot of the parents too. It’s their whole summer. It just means a lot. These kids really needed this. A lot of them were really worried there was going to be no baseball. It’s just great for this community. We’re so lucky and blessed.”

Work remains to be done at the fields. The Refugio City Council recently approved the next major project — the installation of lights.

But given what has transpired over the past six months, Robinson was happy to be back behind the plate calling balls and strikes.

“I’m just amazed we’ve had that many kids come out and play baseball, and I love it,” he said. “That’s what makes me come back. After a softball game or a baseball game, a kid will come up and say, ‘Thank you. We appreciate it.’ That’s what keeps me coming back.”

Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or by email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeforman21
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