Team from Puerto Rico makes Freeport baseball invitational regular stop
The echos from the fireworks grand finale had yet to roll out of the valley to bring last year’s Freeport International Baseball Invitational to a close, and FIBI president Chuck Sarver already was thinking about this year’s invitational.
As soon as the lights to historic Swartz Field kicked back on, Sarver made his way through the crowd to find Puerto Rico coach Eddy Arroyo.
“I just said, ‘Remember next year,’ “ Sarver said. “We stayed in touch pretty much through emails throughout the year, and back in December it became serious. It’s a process, and it’s not easy by any means.”
With a year’s worth of planning, a 2:30 a.m. Sunday departure time and layovers at Orlando and Baltimore airports, Puerto Rico is back to help celebrate FIBI’s silver anniversary as the yearly baseball invitational marks its 25th year of baseball and the goodwill that comes with the game.
“Everybody that goes to the tournament from our town is very grateful, and it is something very different for them,” Arroyo said. “This is a tournament that everyone who goes to it wants to go back one more time.”
Puerto Rico along with 16 other teams, four players from Japan and Australian Nick Leahy will come together for five days of baseball when the invitational begins Tuesday.
“There’s a true appreciation, and they treat us just as well as we treat them,” Sarver said.
For Arroyo, the appreciation started in 1994 when he brought his son’s team to the first FIBI. Arroyo brought a team the next year but didn’t return until three years ago and hasn’t missed a FIBI since. Now, he coaches his grandson’s team.
Arroyo even has a Sonny Westerman story. Westerman, the invitationals co-founder, died in July 2017.
“A few years ago, I went to Sonny and I told him that the umpire is killing me,” Arroyo said. “He told me, ‘Eddy, this is for the love of the game. See it that way.’ It’s true. Let’s enjoy the moment.”
Westerman’s words still ring in Arroyo’s head. No trophies will be handed out. There’s no MVP recognition. No records are kept, and ask a player or coach a few hours after they have played a game what the score was, and they will struggle to remember.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
“Its just backyard baseball. That’s basically it,” Sarver said.
Arroyo is bringing 16 players to this year’s invitational. Of those 16 players, this year’s FIBI will be the maiden voyage for seven of them.
“There’s two things that they really like,” Arroyo said. “We usually we go to Kennywood, and they look forward to going to see the Pirates. Besides that, we have other things that come around.
“A few years back, our bus driver took us to his house and to his farm and had a picnic for the whole team. He treated us very good. It was very different, and not everybody goes out of their way and does that.”
It is those types of experiences that make FIBI more than just a week of baseball. It’s a week of Americana.
“Every year, I get the same question, ‘Why do they come?’ ” Sarver said. “I tell them, ‘For the love of the game.’ ”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.