Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth Baseball is celebrating its anniversary in style.
Founded in 1964 as Belmont Area Baseball, the league is entering its 50th season. Known as Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth since 2009, the league’s home field Belmont Sports Complex will play host to the Northern California 13-15 Year Old State Tournament in July for the first time since the league’s inception.
“This was a special tournament,” District 6 commissioner Jose Perez said. “So, I felt like they deserved it.”
Perez was one of the many league dignitaries on hand Saturday at the Belmont Sports Complex for Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth’s opening day, which included a pregame ceremony with quite a cast of past players. Five players who played in the inaugural 1964 season were present — Karl Mittelstadt, Joe Slay, Jeff Bench, John Zeller and Steve San Filipo.
Bel-Mateo Babe Ruth president Steve Vega helped organize the event. Vega said he wasn’t aware of the anniversary until a month and a half ago when it was brought to his attention by Mittelstadt.
Vega — who has been involved in the league for 15 years and has presided as president for the past eight — quickly put together quite an opening-day event, utilizing social media to coordinate with past players and invite them to be honored.
The pregame ceremonies included an introduction of each of the six teams in Babe Ruth Baseball, individual introductions of all the honorees, a color guard by the Belmont Boy Scout troop and a wonderful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Amelia Espinosa, a student from Ralston Intermediate School. First pitch was thrown out by Belmont Vice Mayor David Bronstein along with Barry Harris, whose father Jerry Harris was the first league commissioner in 1964.
On display at the North Field’s concession stand was an array of league yearbooks published in the mid-1990s. Crafted by scorekeeper extraordinaire Diane Rasmussen, the yearbooks included team photos of all the then Belmont-Redwood Shores teams.
Mittelstadt was one of the key figures in getting the Belmont Sports Complex built in the early 1990s. He, along with Belmont Little League president Bryan Rianda and Belmont AYSO president Bryan Rianda helped design the facility to allow Babe Ruth Baseball to move from its home field at Carlmont High School. Previous to the Belmont Sports Complex, the Carlmont softball diamond was converted into a baseball field every summer, with the league having to build a mound at the beginning of the season then tear it out at the end.
One of the longtime coaches on hand Saturday was former Babe Ruth Red Sox manager Rich Bortoli, who began coaching when his son Jay began playing as a 13 year old. However, after Jay graduated from the Babe Ruth ranks three years later, Bortoli remained at the helm of the Red Sox. He kept with Babe Ruth Baseball because he liked working with the age group. He said he appreciated coaching the team after his son no longer played for it because parents and fans could no longer criticize him for playing his son at shortstop.
Bortoli shared fond memories of his son’s Babe Ruth career though. One of his favorites was when the Red Sox played against Tom Brady’s team from the San Mateo Area Babe Ruth League, before the two leagues merged to form the current Bel-Mateo makeup.
Brady was a catcher in those days, and Bortoli’s account of the now New England Patriots quarterback was about how the scouting report on Brady’s arm strength was perhaps a bit skewed. “He was criticized that maybe his arm wasn’t that strong,” Bortoli said. “But he could throw it to second base, which a lot of kids (that age) can’t do. So, we stopped running on him.”
Bortoli also joked about the impact of Brady going 0 for 3 against his son.
“I always say my son turned him into a football player,” he said.
District 6 is comprised of Bel-Mateo, Palo Alto and Mountain View, with the only other league to host a Nor Cal tournament being Mountain View. The league has hosted twice, once in 2011 and again in ‘13. In both seasons, the same Tri Valley team won, first as 13 year olds then again as 15 year olds last season. In 2011, Tri Valley went on to win the Babe Ruth World Series.