By Mike Kinney
Soulful Softball Sunday returns to Nicholl Park in Richmond this Sunday, with rap legend E-40, an avid baseball fan, expected to throw out the first pitch along with former Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Norris.
The annual community gathering, with sponsorship this year by Curtis Witt Ltd., Ronnie ‘Bubba’ Robinson Scholarship Foundation & Cooperative Federal Credit Union, will this year be held in honor James Ruiz, a beloved community member and community softball player who died from complications due to COVID-19 in May.
The “James Ruiz Invitational Tournament” aims to keep Ruiz’s legacy alive, according to Soulful Softball Sunday founder Rodney Alamo Brown. This year will feature four men’s and four women’s teams from Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco who will compete for the Mayor’s Cup Challenge Trophy. Next year, the tourney will open up to teams from different cities, Brown said.
An MVP trophy awarded will be awarded to the best male and female player. The award will be in honor of Chopper Dickens, a legendary longtime Richmond softball player, Brown said.
Of course, Soulful Softball Sunday isn’t just about softball. The event that works to strengthen community bonds by bringing local residents together will also have entertainment, including a performance from the El Cerrito High cheerleaders.
Per usual, an abundance of community-based organization will attend to provide services and resources. A career fair with be held featuring union representatives from LIUNA Local 324, which represents thousands of construction and oil refinery workers in Northern California. And 200 pink commemorative breast cancer awareness t-shirts will be given away as SSS honors survivors. In addition, legends of Richmond, past and present, will be honored at the event, and a raffle will include gifts and prizes, one being a trip to Las Vegas.
One could say Soulful Softball Sunday organizers are glad to be able to hold the event amid the pandemic, but in actuality the organization has been quite busy in the community, Brown said. SSS has hosted 14 events since the pandemic began and also worked collectively with the West Contra Costa Unified School District to distribute over 2.5 million meals to families in need when schools closed in March 2020.
This year’s Soulful Softball Sunday is somewhat different than past years, Brown said.
“This experience is more sentimental than the others, with the death of James there’s a sense of brotherhood and bonding that will manifest,” he said. “Everyone is very excited about the direction SSS is going now, we believe in loving on the people without receiving anything in return. Our think tank is not the same as former years, we’ve revamped some things and eliminated other things.”