Tournaments | Story | 9/18/2019

'Farmers' reaped PG Fall bounty

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Ricky Perez (Perfect Game)

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Within the recognized story structure of taking first things first, let’s begin with the team name. For those non-Spanish speakers among us, a translation into English was needed and what was learned resulted in a smile, right along with a chuckle or two.

Yes, there was a team – a very competitive team – at the just-completed Perfect Game WWBA Upperclass Fall National Championship Protected by G-Form that played under the name of the California Tomato Farmers.

No, that wasn’t the team name that appeared in event’s official program, but by the time the PG national championship tournament reached its final day on Monday, everyone in attendance knew exactly who the Tomateros de California were.

The Southern California-based Tomateros de California came into the 50-team event flying very much under the radar, competing with a roster void of any highly ranked prospects or college recruits that then turned heads by claiming the playoffs’ No. 1 seed and marching all the way into the final four. In a span of four days, the Tomato Farmers proved to all they were the real deal.

“We’ve got a  good group of guys; a lot of our guys have played with each other since they were younger,” program founder and head coach Jeremy Ruiz told PG on Sunday just before the Tomateros faced the No. 9 Player’s Choice Academy out of Scottsdale in a quarterfinal-round playoff game.

“It’s more of a team aspect where everybody knows each other and we all have each other’s backs, and these guys talk to each other all the time,” he continued. “We don’t really have the big arms or the big sticks where everybody’s going to come out throwing 94 or 95 (mph) but we do play as a team and we play hard, and they show up to play every day.”

Everyone on the roster played and everyone contributed in his own way. There were the 2020s like Sergio Cazares, Zach Jakel, Isiah Leal, Jack Oodle, Matthew Ortiz, Ricky Perez, Michael Poot and Brandon Reyes, and top 2021s in Damian Beltran, Zach Gardiner, Aaron Pena and Julian Ruiz, coach Jeremy Ruiz’s younger brother.

Beltran, Cazares and Perez were the top pitchers over the four-day run which saw the Tomateros de California go 3-0-0 during pool-play while outscoring those opponents by a combined 19-1, good enough  to snag that No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

They then beat the Player’s Choice Academy by a 10-2 count in Sunday’s quarterfinal matchup and moved into Monday’s semis where they lost to No. 4 CBA Marucci 2020, 1-0.

Perez, a 2020 right-hander/infielder, threw a five inning, five-hitter, giving up one earned run and striking out seven in the win over Player’s Choice. The 2020 left-hander/outfielder Cazares and the 2021 righty/catcher Beltran combined on a seven-hitter against CBA and the only run they allowed was unearned; Cazares pitched 11 innings over the four days without allowing an earned run on eight hits, striking out six and walking five.

“This has been pretty great,” Perez told PG on Sunday. “It’s a lot of fun coming out here with these guys – my friends, my buddies – being able to play baseball and then (getting) the No. 1 seed. It’s a lot of fun and it’s easy, especially when everyone gets along; we all move well as a team. … Guys who actually want to be around each other get it done, and that’s why we’re the No. 1 seed.”

But back to the name. The Tomateros de California Baseball organization is headquartered in Paramount, Calif., in Los Angeles County, and sits a little over 15 miles southeast of Los Angeles, about two miles dead-east of Compton and right around 12 miles northeast of Long Beach. Make no mistake, this is not farming country.

Ruiz explained that the area includes a lot of Mexican-American families whose family trees can be traced back to the Mexican state of Sinaloa, where there is a professional Mexican League baseball team called Tomateros de Culiacan (Culiacan Tomato Farmers) from which they took the name.

This upperclass team of 2020s  and 2021s has played together at other PG tournaments in the past but most of the players are involved with other travel ball organizations during the summer. Ruiz said the program’s focus has been on younger players so we can expect to see some more Tomateros de California teams arriving on the scene in the coming years.

“This is just kind of a blue collar group that comes out and works hard,” Ruiz said. “… A lot of these guys have been kind of overlooked probably because we haven’t been at many Perfect Game events. But then the more we come out in the fall and then next summer I’m pretty sure they’ll catch some attention.”

Ortiz, a 2020 shortstop who has been talking with Washington State, might be the most high-profile member of the team simply for his bloodlines. His older brother, Joseph Ortiz, was a fourth-round pick of the Orioles out of New Mexico State in last June’s MLB Amateur Draft.

“It’s really fun being here, and there are a lot of good teams here so you get to meet a lot of new guys,” Ortiz said. “With this team, we’re just our here having fun. … Lately it’s been rough for us here and there, but I guess this week it all finally came together. It’s really shown what we have as a team.”

The Tomateros are very familiar with the high profile organizations out of Southern California that are more nationally known, programs like CBA and GBA which, incidentally, met in the Upper Fall championship game on Monday. They just don’t get out as much because it's a reality that playing a full-time schedule on the travel ball circuit is expensive.

“It’s not that this group isn’t good enough to play, but we have to pick and choose our tournaments wisely,” Ruiz said. “We just can’t come out as often as we’d like.”

That said, the California Tomato Farmers were thrilled to be in the west Phoenix suburbs over the long weekend, with the outstanding competition they got to face and the equally outstanding exposure to scouts and college recruiters they received. It may be tired and true, but when the best play the best, everyone gets better.

“It’s a lot different being with these guys because I know all of them personally,” Ruiz said. “It’s like they’re all my little kids and I’ve got 12 kids out here that I’ve got to take care of. … Like I said, it’s more of a team aspect where these guys text each other all day long.

“I’ve got to my phone on silent because my phone is blowing up. We go back to the hotel and there’s like 10 guys in one room, so it’s a little different group but it’s fun to be around.”

Ortiz backed up his coach’s words and talked about how the group is more of a family than a team. That’s something that’s heard often from players who have been part of a particular travel ball program for longer than they’ve been involved with their high school programs, but with the Tomateros, it’s a sentiment seems very real.

More than one PG scout commented over the weekend on just how much fun it was to watch the Tomato Farmers go about their business on the field and how they played the game knowledgably and passionately. It’s kind of a diminutive roster – only Oodle was listed at 6-feet tall and most of the players are in the 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10 range – but they played big on one of PG’s biggest western stages.

“I always have a lot of confidence in this team,” Perez said. “We’ve all played together for a while, we all know what we can do, so going into any tournament, any game, we all feel confident with everybody else because we know what we’re capable of and we know we can beat anybody at any time.”

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