Pueblo of Isleta
A journey that started in 2008 will come to a joyful end in a few weeks for Pueblo of Isleta baseball and softball fans along with former governor Vernon Abeita.
That journey will conclude with a flick of a switch, sending beams of light showering down on the Pueblo’s four Little League fields.
“Year after year, we tried to get lights for kids at the fields,” Abeita recalled. “We tried our best to get money from the tribal council. We weren’t too successful — different road blocks, different barriers,” is how Abeita described it.
Those road blocks unexpectedly dwindled during the pandemic when federal money became available through ARPA — American Rescue Plan Act. By that time, Abeita was governor of Isleta Pueblo. With the help of supporters, including first Lt. Gov. Virgil Lucero and second Lt. Gov. Blaine Sanchez, a plan was put in place to first secure the funds and then make a pitch to win approval from the tribal council.
“We sat down and figured out these are some of the things that are affecting our community, affecting our kids — mental health issues, suicide, depression, anxiety,” said Abeita, saying keeping youth active could help address those concerns.
After what was described as “long discussions and a lot of understanding,” the tribal council unanimously approved the proposal late last year. An “emotional” moment for Abeita, who has had different roles with Isleta Little League, from president in 2008 to now as an umpire.
The process for installing the lights is underway. Light standards are going up on fields one, two and three near the Recreation Center and at Chical Field on Tribal Road 10. In addition, a building will be constructed near fields one and two that will be used for concessions and meetings. Stand-alone concession stands are also planned for field one and Chical Field. Abeita said the total cost of the project is about $2 million.
The lush green grass at Isleta Little League has attracted state and regional tournaments before and more could be on the way.
“We’ll bid on those tournaments when those big tournaments come around,” said current Isleta Little League president Robert Mariano. “And bring that excitement to the Pueblo of Isleta.”
While many of the players may not be aware of the excitement that is on the way, their parents certainly are. Dominic Cherino has three children playing.
“For this environment, the facility we have here, it’s going to be awesome,” Cherino explained. “It’s for the kids’ sake.”
“There is a rich history of baseball being played here,” Mariano added. “I think it’s really important for the youth to stay active.”
The lights will do more than just shine, with different options available to celebrate a home run, great catch or a victory.
Abeita was quick to praise the Isleta Parks and Recreation department for keeping the fields in excellent shape and thanked the Pueblo Council for its final approval. Abeita is hoping the lights will debut before the start of All-Star season sometime in June or July.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.