LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — A euphoric moment for a group of 11-year-old baseball players from Las Cruces quickly soured on Sunday afternoon when the kids’ championship belt was stolen — about an hour after they’d won it.
The Las Cruces Dawgs 11U baseball team was celebrating its victory in the USSSA Bataan Death March Memorial Super NIT Tournament in Las Cruces. The Dawgs were one of 124 teams from across the region that competed Friday, Saturday and Sunday across several age divisions.
First belt win
The Dawgs beat the Durango Donkeys on Sunday afternoon to secure the Silver Championship within their age division. Along with rings and a trophy, the club team received a championship belt. It’s an oversized black belt bearing shiny, metallic placards — the center one is emblazoned: “USSSA Champions.”
These much-coveted prize belts are awarded only at certain tournaments. And, until Sunday, the Dawgs, who’ve been competing together about three years, had never won one.
“They were ecstatic,” said Lonna Pierce, mother of one of the team members. “They ended up winning against a team that they’d lost to the day before.”
‘Everybody was really upset’
Team members posed for photos with their rings, trophy and championship belt before departing the tournament to get some celebratory ice cream. Soon, the team had regrouped at Cold Stone Creamery. Everyone was having fun — until team members left the restaurant about a half hour after arriving.
A truck belonging to the team’s coach, Abel Renteria, had been burglarized. It was parked in the nearby lot at the time. A series of belongings — Renteria’s wife’s purse, a camera bag, and the championship belt — were missing. In addition, a packet of donated gift certificates that were part of an ongoing team fundraiser were taken. The team was, understandably, disappointed.
The belt’s estimated value is about $200. But to the Dawgs, its value transcends the monetary.
Pierce said her son, 11-year-old Santino Lozoya, “got teary-eyed when he found out the belt was gone.
“He was like: ‘We worked so hard,'” she said. “Everybody was really upset.”
The burglary was reported to the Las Cruces Police Department. There have been no arrests.
LCPD spokesman Dan Trujillo confirmed the department responded to the auto burglary about 6 p.m. Sunday. He encouraged residents to keep items in vehicles out of sight and to make sure all doors are locked.
“That means no backpacks, purses, wallets, electronics, merchandise, packages or anything else that may draw attention,” he said.
A generous offer
By Monday morning, word of the stolen championship belt had reached Victor Falvey, USSSA New Mexico/Texas West baseball state director.
Falvey said he immediately offered to replace the Dawgs’ championship belt.
“We told them we’d gladly give it to them,” he said. “The teams put a lot of effort into this. And that’s a tragedy; they put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
While the team is happy that the belt will be replaced, Pierce said she’s hoping someone will still step forward with tips about the burglary. At issue is that the other items, such as the purse and packet of donated gift cards and certificates, are still missing. Plus, she said, whoever stole the items should face some consequences.
“It’s the kids who are the ones who end up being victimized in the whole situation,” she said.
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