Saipan Baseball League president Jay Santos admitted that the popularity of America’s favorite pastime in the CNMI has waned the past two years, but through no fault of their own.
Aside from the current COVID-19 pandemic that essentially cancelled the 2020 season, Super Typhoon Yutu way back in 2018 and current repairs to the Francisco “Tan Ko” M. Palacios Baseball Field have robbed local baseball players parts of two seasons.
Now, Santos is looking at the Northern Mariana Islands Football Association for inspiration on how to run a professional and first-class sports federation.
“You look at the success of soccer. Props to them and props to [NMIFA president] Jerry Tan and everyone that’s been involved in organizing youth soccer. We’ve seen how it’s developed with the great field that they have at Koblerville and there’s no reason we can’t do that same thing for baseball. I’m hoping that Patrick Guerrero and the Governor’s Authorized Representative Office would come through with the field renovations. Obviously, that old adage ‘build it and they will come’ is still relevant and I’m very optimistic if we have the facilities for baseball there will be a lot of interest in playing the national pastime,” he said in an interview with Saipan Tribune.
Born and raised in the U.S. mainland, Santos’ passion for the sport is undeniable. The Triple J executive played baseball from when he was 8 years old until high school.
“I love the game. I was a huge Dodgers fan. Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and all the Dodgers from the ‘80s,” he said when asked about his favorite team and players growing up by the Bay.
And Santos hopes not only to resuscitate the men’s league through his baseball passion but also to have a hand in bringing back youth baseball to its former glory
“It’s the hope going forward for the Saipan Baseball League not only to field a national team next year [for the 2022 Northern Marianas Pacific Mini Games] but also help assist Saipan Little League Baseball in getting the youth programs going because that’s where the foundation begins. We need to get youth baseball back up and going,” he said.
SBL’s membership with the World Baseball Organization will allow Santos and the new SBL board to do just that.
“We have plans in putting together a U15, U16, and U18 baseball teams and it’s that foundation that we need baseball to get going again. It’s not that we’re going against the Little League, it’s more like supplementing and augmenting Little League Baseball. It’s just to provide more baseball opportunities for our youth here in the CNMI.”
Santos said SBL working with the CNMI’s youth already got rolling last year when the islands sent a U15 team to a World Baseball Organization tournament in Guam.
“Thanks to the work of former SBL board members Tony Rogolifoi and Rose Igitol, last year in January we were able to send a team to a World Baseball Organization tournament in Guam, where our U15 players competed against Guam and New Zealand for a chance to go to the tournament in Tijuana, Mexico,” he said.
Again, Santos emphasized that they’re not usurping the authority of the SLLB but are working through WBO to develop the islands’ up-and-coming baseball players.
“It’s that body that we want to piggyback on and try to get more baseball activities going on as well. Again, this is not to go against Saipan Little League Baseball.”
Santos admitted for SBL to survive and thrive it needs to tap into the next generation of baseball players and that’s why he’s all in developing the organization’s youth program.
“We need to get our ducks on order and quite frankly some of the board members we have now were surprised to hear my proposal to get active on youth baseball as well. It’s something that they’re not used to. It’s nothing against them it’s just the Saipan Baseball League is historically just about organizing the men’s league. But at this point in time right now, if we keep going to the direction we’re going there won’t be any more men’s league until we get a really strong foundation on youth baseball. Baseball was the No. 1 sport on island as recent as 8 and 10 years ago.”
The SBL official said it’s about time to put the sport back to its proper place after a couple of years of inactivity brought about by natural disasters and the pandemic.
“You look at the history of baseball and the tournaments we competed in the past, specially the men’s team. We’ve won in the Pacific Games and the Micronesian Games in the past. We also have a number of players that have gone on and played Division I and Division II baseball in the States. We need to grow on that. It’s exactly what the CNMI needs to put baseball back on the map.”
Another item in Santos’ bucket list is to promote the islands’ baseball facilities as an ideal spring training ground for professional teams in Japan and South Korea. That would be in line with the Marianas Visitors Authority’s much-touted sports tourism program.
“If we don’ take the route of trying to sell the facilities to whether it’s Korean professional baseball or Japanese professional baseball teams then we’re not doing our job. These facilities, if the plans all go through, will be topnotch facilities and there’s no question and my belief that a number of these teams have stopped coming to the CNMI because the facilities weren’t kept up to standards. It’s not anybody’s fault, no need to point fingers on anybody. But if we have the facilities I think they’re gonna build there’s no question there’s gonna be a lot of interest from these professional teams to come down here and do their spring training and preparation for their leagues.”
And Santos believes that the sports tourism aspect will not only bring much-needed dollars to the CNMI’s coffers, but also facilitate an exchange of baseball knowledge from the professional baseball teams down to the local teams.
“We want to invite these guys to come not only to use our facilities and pay for the facilities to make revenue from it but also to hopefully provide clinics for our youth and our men’s teams so they improve their skills as well.”