Izzy Calderon Softball Benefit
The annual Israel Calderon Benefit Softball Tournament was held this weekend at Copper Sky. Submitted photo

By Kevin McDill

On behalf of the team of people that puts this together, and on behalf of Izzy’s family, we say THANK YOU to everyone who attended, competed, donated, or helped spread the word around about the annual Israel Calderon Benefit Softball Tournament. We raised the most money we have ever raised in the four years of doing this event. But let’s get into it.

I’ve never done an extensive recap of the tourney like this, but so much happens behind the scenes and, this year especially, at the tourney, that folks aren’t aware of. The planning for this tourney starts months in advance. We typically do this in March, so the planning starts at the beginning of the year. This year we got derailed by COVID (don’t even get me started).

But regardless, we plan, we have meetings, and a group text where I bug the hell out of everyone with my ramblings. It’s a lot of work. Gathering raffle items, getting teams signed up, collecting fees, finding umpires, deciding on rules (yes, we know, we’ll fix it next year). Then we have field reservations, going to the PRL Committee to get a waiver for the field fees, getting concessions lined up, a DJ, etc.

This year was harder because we did the Home Run Derby the night before, so it was a LOT more work. But this team works very well together, we all have the same thing in mind and that’s Izzy’s family and raising money. There are no egos (except probably mine, lol) and we actually have fun doing it all. But it is a lot.

The derby this year was INSANE!! In the planning of the tourney, Gregg Hogenes ended up getting hooked up with Chris Larsen. If you don’t know who Chris Larsen is, he is sponsored by DeMarini and has a resume that would take forever to list here. Then came Mike Nino, a local Majors player and one of the best hitters in softball. Mike put it out on Facebook and the next thing you know, we had smashers from all over the valley coming to Maricopa on a few hours’ notice. Chris and Mike put on a show for everyone, and the contest itself was crazy!! The winners all got some incredible prizes that were donated by DeMarini. We ended up making $1,800 on the derby alone. So that kicked things off.

Then it’s tourney day! At the field at 6 a.m. to set up. We have less than two hours to get it all set up before the National Anthem. Dozens of raffle items, tables, chairs, canopies, coolers, a TV for the fights (not standard, this was a one-off … but I got to sit with my son and watch Khabib’s last fight … epic!), working with the grounds crew on final touches, it’s borderline chaos. Who am I kidding? It’s chaos.

But not only is the whole team of us there, others come out and chip in on the setup. This family of ours, this softball family in Maricopa (and beyond) is amazing. I’ve played in a lot of different places and I’ve never seen such a close-knit softball community in my life. It’s awesome and I consider myself lucky to be part of it.

So, to everyone who came out to help in the morning, you need to know what that means and how much we appreciate it. It’s craziness all around. Then, uh-oh, it’s 7:45, we gotta go! We had a miscommunication with our singer for the anthem (I’ll take the heat on that one), so queue up Whitney and let’s go. Jeremy gets on the mic (which he just LOVES to do, lol), we get everyone lined up, and the anthem starts. This is where I lose it.

See, when all the planning is happening, yes, we’re thinking of why we’re doing this, of course, but it’s in the back of your mind because you’ve got so much to do. But at this moment, all the work is done, things are about to kick off, everyone is silent, the anthem starts, and it all hits you like a ton of bricks – we’re doing this because our friend, our teammate, most likely isn’t coming back to us. And this year was worse because we were missing one of the longest standing members of this softball community, Ryan Whitaker.

You have to try to keep it together, but you can’t. Tears start to flow, just get through it. Typically, we are all together when the anthem plays and it’s hard because we can all hear each other struggling, sniffling, see each other wiping tears away. But we’re there for each other. This year we were more spread out for some reason, but somehow it made it easier, even though being together is more comforting.

But sack up, the anthem is only so long, the first pitch is coming and we need to get this thing going. The anthem finishes up, everyone cheers, and Mayor Price gets on the mound to throw the first pitch. He does, it’s a good one, and let’s play ball! I go find Donkey and we hug each other and cry like babies for about five minutes, then we get back to business.

The tourney itself was, by far, the most competitive we have ever had. There were so many solid teams and, no surprise, Karl and his team of Pigs ended up taking the title. But Gang Gang put up a hell of a fight all day and in the championship. It was a great tourney.

Now, on to some of the behind-the-scenes things that most weren’t aware of. This was the first-ever event at Copper Sky where alcohol was allowed INSIDE the softball complex. The city was nervous, but after working with the Council, we agreed to terms that would allow people to bring their own alcohol. I believe we sold over 80 alcohol bracelets and not once was someone caught drinking without one. Also, we had no alcohol-related incidents! This was a test, and we passed with flying colors. So hopefully the city will allow alcohol at future tourneys and, who knows, maybe even sell it someday!

One of the most significant things that happened, that I guarantee nobody knew about, was a meeting between certain people hardest hit by Izzy’s accident – Izzy’s wife, Gloria, and son, Israel Jr., were introduced to the man who was the first to find Izzy after the accident and who saved his life – Damon Burke. This meeting was four years in the making, but it never happened until this weekend. I won’t get into details, but as hard of a conversation as it was, it answered a lot of questions, granted closure on both sides, and helped the healing process for all parties. I want to thank my wife for facilitating that meeting because I only would’ve screwed it up.

We want to thank a lot of people. I am not going to name the donors individually because I will miss someone and that is horrible, plus it would double the size of this post. If you donated, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you to the city – Jax and Amanda for the amazing work you and your team do, not just on the fields every day (best fields in Arizona) but for the special treatment you give to this tournament. Thanks to Mayor Christian Price for taking time out of his crazy schedule to throw out the first pitch. Thanks to Niesha, Monte, David, and Nathan who help with field reservations (I was a royal pain in the butt this year, sorry … but only because I’ll be a jerk for Izzy all day, lol). Thanks to Big Papa’s Concessions who not only have the best damn food around, but they donated 10% of their take to the tourney. Thank you to Donnie and Selena, the off-duty officers that donated their time to provide the police presence we needed to be able to drink alcohol. Thanks to John Stapleton for putting together our promo videos and advertising for us. Thanks to Alex Ortega and Mike Huerta for donating their time to DJ for the derby and the tourney. A BIG thanks to Paul Martinez who took over 300 pictures of the event. I have them and I will be posting them, be patient.

From me personally – Thank you to my daughter Sydney, my son’s girlfriend Keara, my niece Kaelynn, and our good friend Leeanne for donating their time to help at the check-in desk selling bracelets, raffle tickets, shirts, and whatever else we could pimp. But mostly thanks to my wife. Not only does she handle everything on tourney day, but she puts up with me in the months of planning leading up to it, my mood swings the day of, and my worthlessness the day after.

So … as I said before, we raised more money than we ever have. Between the Home Run Derby, team fees, sales, the cornhole contest, raffle tickets, and other direct donations, we raised over $11,000 for Izzy’s family. I will say it one more time – THANK YOU!!! We will be looking to outdo ourselves next year, so wait for the announcement of the tourney date and get ready!! Thanks again everyone.

Kevin McDill is an organizer of the annual Israel Calderon Benefit Softball Tournament, which raises money to assist Israel Calderon, who was seriously injured in a crash on State Route 347 in December 2016.