A lot has happened in Colton over the 60 years since it last sent a team to a youth baseball world series. But the Colton Nighthawks are making up for lost time. The Nighthawks breezed through state and national qualifying tournaments last month, winning the right to advance to the Connie Mack World Series on July 29-Aug 5 in Farmington, New Mexico. Colton is one of 12 teams from the U.S, Puerto Rico, and Canada to qualify and the first ever from the Inland Empire.
Connie Mack Baseball has been played regionally by those ages 16-18, well before its first national world series was held. San Bernardino hosted the Connie Mack West Regionals in the mid-1950’s, but none of the many Inland Empire entries could advance past the local level. Colton received enormous notoriety in 1954 and 1956 by sending teams to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
Nighthawks management hopes to stimulate some of that old Colton baseball magic. “We have played as a travel team in New York, Florida, Illinois, Texas and across the country for 25 years,” said Nighthawks’ founder and general manger John Prieto. We take pride in the Colton Nighthawks’ name. Everywhere we go, people know the Colton Nighthawks. Prieto did say the Nighthawks roster no longer has players from Colton. The team plays its home games in Norco and Hemet. An earlier version of the Colton Nighthawks played in the 1920’s-1930’s.
Prieto explained the Nighthawks are part of the growing national trend of youth travel baseball that offers an alternative to traditional high school and little league baseball. “You improve your skills by competing at a higher level,” says Prieto. “Unless your are an exceptional player, you are not going to become a professional unless you play travel ball.”
He says the Nighthawks organization charges $375 for position players and $175 for pitchers for a season that can include up to 18-30 games. That is about half what others charge, he says. “We don’t turn anyone away who can’t pay. We always come up with some way for them.”
According to the Nighthawks website it’s a nonprofit organization that serves the San Diego community. It has sponsorships from $250-$2,500. Its annual golf tournament fundraiser receives support from pro coach Steve Hernandez and County Supervisor James C. Ramos. Prieto says the golf tournament is the primary source of income.
Although the Nighthawks’ lineup has consisted of many current major leaguers over the years, Prieto noted that his team is not seeking just the All-CIF types. “In fact, we’ve had many guys come to us and blossom after sitting on the bench in High school. He recalled a player named Javier Hernandez who was cut off teams in four cities. “I sat down with Javy and told him don’t lose faith in yourself. I just ask of you to show up and be ready to play. He was probably the best 3rd baseman we’ve had. Some players need to be approached differently.”
Prieto said there’s been only two Nighthawks alumni who ended up in trouble, not counting the well-publicized Matt Bush, who once pitched for Colton before signing with the San Diego Padres and then served three years in prison. “He was no problem for us.” Other’s who have played for Colton are Justin Turner, Matt Davidson, Taijuan Walker, Ricky Nolasco, Jesse Chavez, Matt Carson, and Mark Teahan. Former Colton HS standout Ruben Montano has been the Nighthawks manager for 20 years.
Prieto said the Nighthawks have played in various leagues and have won the U.S. Amateur Baseball Federation championship 11 times, including three straight from 2004-2006. The upcoming Connie Mack World Series is governed by the American Amateur Baseball Congress which awarded the Nighthawks $7,000 along with a $1,500 tournament fee waiver. “We don’t hold practices and do not make players sign contracts,” said Prieto. I have only one rule. Once you leave the Nighthawks for another team, there’s no coming back.”
The Nighthawks will get the royal treatment when it arrives In New Mexico for the Connie Mack World Series. The city of Farmington will welcome them with a police escort into town, followed by a parade down Main Street, banquets, award ceremonies, and sight seeing of the new Connie Mack World Series Hall of Fame. City officials also offer a foster parent program where players stay with a local family.