D-Backs Native American Appreciation Day draws 700 youth

Stan Bindell/Observer

Arjee Thomas of the Window Rock Kryptonites poses with former Diamondbacks slugger Matt Williams

Stan Bindell/Observer Arjee Thomas of the Window Rock Kryptonites poses with former Diamondbacks slugger Matt Williams

PHOENIX -- Young baseball players enjoy getting attention at professional baseball games.

Arjee Thomas is no different. The 12-year-old played for the Window Rock Kryptonites, who finished second in a youth baseball tournament in the valley, so he was one of many young players drawing the spotlight Aug. 6 at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix during the seventh annual Native American Appreciation Day.

Thomas said it was cool to have his photo taken with former Diamondbacks slugger Matt Williams and added it was fun being on the field during the pre-game ceremonies.

Thomas and his teammates weren't the only ones enjoying the day, so did his coach, Native American performers and tribal officials.

For Michael Smith, the head coach of the Window Rock Kryptonites, it was a family affair. His wife and two sons were also on the field to receive the awards as his 12-year-old son Robert played for the Kryptonites and his wife Henrietta and 17-year-old son Aubrey both served as assistant coaches.

"I had mixed feelings about taking second place because we could have won it, but the kids enjoyed it and being on the field was way cool," he said. "It was nice to experience this as a family. It caps off our season."

Smith said he thanks the Diamondbacks and the Salt River Pima for making the tournament possible.

"I also want to thank all the parents and supporters," he said.

The Kryptonites had 13 players with four 12 year olds and the rest were 11.

The performers included the Blue Thunder drum group from the Hopi Reservation, the Hopi Yotem (Warriors) from Phoenix, the San Carlos Young, the Begay Family Dancers, Nesbah Yellowhorse from Tuba City, the Yellowbird Dancers from San Carlos and the Marshall Group from Tempe.

Happy Frejo, who is Pawnee/Seminole, sang the national anthem. Frejo sings rhythm and blues for Straight Up, a Phoenix area band.

The tribal royalty attending the game included Little Miss Hualapai Consuela Bravo, Miss Hopi Tara Secakuku, Little Miss Havasupai Starr Livia, Miss Tohono O'odham First Attendant Naomi Miguel, Miss Tohono O'Odham Second Attendant Cheryl Antone, Miss Ft. McDowell Jolene Smith, Miss Kaibab Paiute Elyse Kerez, Miss Indian Arizona Ruby Steele, Miss San Carlos Angela

Stanley and Miss Tohono O'Odham Mary Juan.

The Colorado Rockies beat the Diamondbacks 14-7, but the pre-game activities were festive with Indian song and dance performances as well as the Diamondbacks presenting awards to the top teams from the youth baseball tournament.

Gila River won the youth tournament with the Window Rock Kryptonites grabbing second.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Diamondbacks hosted the seventh annual Inter-tribal Youth baseball tournament from Aug. 2-6. The tournament also included a baseball clinic hosted by the Diamondbacks.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are the only major league baseball team to establish a tradition of hosting a baseball tournament for Native American youth.

Williams presented the first through fourth place teams with their trophies. Williams said since the tournament and appreciation day began seven years ago that it has grown in popularity.

"They played a great championship game in the heat," he said. "They get to play and learn at the same time."

About 700 Native American youth participated in the tournament and baseball clinic.

"It's nice for the kids, but the best part is they get to learn this great game," he said.

Williams said Native Americans are an important part of the baseball supporters of the Diamondbacks as the team works with them on various issues, especially dealing with charities.

Casinos are one of the sponsors of the Diamondbacks.

Williams noted that he will be participating in a poker night at Gila River Casino Sept. 18. The grand prize is $10,000. Williams said if he wins he'll donate the prize to charity.

"I'm not very good," he said. "But you never know. I could win."

Williams, who retired from playing because of injuries, misses the game.

"I can still play mentally, but not physically. It's still fun being out here," he said.

The D-backs remain in the pennant race in the weak Western Conference. Williams said the D-Backs need to make a little run in order to make the playoffs.

"Nobody is running away with it," he said.

Raphael Bear, president of the Ft. McDowell Apache, said it was a great day and his only complaint was that the announcers need to learn the pronunciations of the Native American names.

"It's good that Native Americans are recognized in this arena. It's not done in many arenas," he said.

President Bear said Native Americans are competitive in many sports including baseball, softball and basketball.

"It's good for the first inhabitants to be recognized," he said.

Jack Jackson Jr., executive director of the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs, said it's always great to have Native Americans recognized for their sports abilities. He said the Diamondbacks deserve praise for recognizing Native Americans on an annual basis.

Jackson was happy with the Indian performers.

"It was great that today's activities included the dancers. It shows that Indian people are still involved with our culture," he said.

(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)

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