It has been three years since Kerry and Gina Gorrell received the news that their oldest son, Austin, had passed away in his freshman college dorm room while sleeping. Austin, a member of the University of Nevada baseball team at the time, was not wearing an assigned defibrillator vest when he died from heart failure at the young age of 19.
Gorrell was diagnosed with a heart condition called, Cardiomyopthy, during his preseason physical administered by the Nevada athletic department in 2015. The condition put him at a three percent chance of suffering heart failure and forced him to medically redshirt his freshman season, according to his father in an interview with reporters after the ordeal.
“No one knew about the condition until they diagnosed it,” Kerry Gorrell said in a past interview. “At Nevada they do an EKG (electrocardiogram) on every one of their athletes. They caught a little blip and said something wasn’t right.”
Before playing for the University of Nevada, Gorrell was a standout catcher for the J.W. North Huskies out of Riverside and along with the shock for his parents, a community was also saddened. Since the young baseball player’s sudden death shook the Inland baseball community, that same community, with the help of so many others like it, have come together during this time each year to ensure the former Riverside North catcher’s legacy is carried on forever.
Family and friends of the Gorrell’s thought it would be great if a tournament was held to not only help the family honor Austin, but to also help local players with scholarship opportunities for college. That is when the Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic was created, just months after Austin died. The tournament started out with only nine area high school baseball teams and has grown to four times that with games taking place from as far away as San Bernardino to right here in our own Temecula Valley.
“Austin had a lot of passion for the game, a passion that so many have as well, and if we can come together in his name every year and make playing at the next level a reality, then we know he would be proud,” said tournament organizer Billy Trudel, a former youth coach of Gorrell’s and a friend of the family.
Originally the idea was to host a charity softball game, but the organizers had so much interest from sponsors and schools that they were able to make it a full-fledged baseball tournament. The plan for those involved in the organization of the now 40-team tournament is to expand it to be bigger and better in future years and keep the young catcher’s legacy alive.
The lead up to the tournament games has all the makings of any big time fan fest, which included a home run derby, where almost every team in the tournament had representation this year. Top area prospect, Trevor Cadd, of ML King took home the title of HR Derby winner with 17 in the final round and 72 overall. Of course, the major draw is the championship game, held at Cal Baptist University’s James W. Totman Stadium, which might pull in just as much excitement as any CIF finals game in itself. The games themselves don’t count toward the participants’ win-loss totals since CIF-Southern Section sanctioned games can’t take place until Feb. 24, nut it allows for coaches to get a good taste of what their preseason lineups might look like without being dinged with a possible loss.
Before the championship game, the Gorrell Family gave away multiple scholarship checks for graduating seniors who will be going off to college next year. Initially, tournament organizers intended to award one scholarship, but donations pour in more and more each year and this year 10 seniors were given $25,000. Anthony Mendez of Riverside’s Ramona High School was granted the largest donation of $7,500 before this year’s championship game for his heartfelt essay.
“I’m very thankful to the Gorrell family,” Mendez said. “The fact that they chose me, it is overwhelming, but I am honored and intend to do anything to help keep Austin’s dream something that won’t get taken for granted.”
Seniors are asked to submit essays to a six-person committee – which includes Gorrell’s parents – on why they deserve the scholarship.
“It’s so hard to narrow down the applicants, we want to give every senior money and one day we hope that could be possible, but to be able to provide more and more seniors every year with some scholarship money is such a blessing, it is what Austin would have wanted,” said Gina Gorrell, Austin’s mom.
Local teams that competed this year included Heritage, Tahquitz, Murrieta Valley, Chaparral, Temescal Canyon, Murrieta Mesa, Vista Murrieta and Great Oak. The championship game was held Tuesday, Nov. 21, in a packed stadium that saw Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, a prodigy of Riverside Poly, catch the ceremonial first pitch. Ayala won this year’s Gorrell Classic with a 7-3 win over Santiago. Preparations are already underway for next year’s tournament. To find out more info visit www.austingorrellbaseballclassic.com.