5th annual Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic gets underway

Family members of the late Austin Gorrell sell merchandise at the kick-off homerun derby event, held at Ryan Bonaminio Park in Riverside Friday, Nov. 23. JP Raineri photo.

Local high school teams gather to compete in past players honor

Gina and Kerry Gorrell, pictured here alongside L.A. Dodgers coach Dino Ebel, continue to show strength in honoring their son Austin with a yearly baseball tournament for local high school teams. JP Raineri photo.

RIVERSIDE – It’s been five years since Kerry and Gina Gorrell were given the news that no parent ever wants to hear. They received word that their oldest son, Austin, had passed away in his college dorm room while sleeping. At the time, Austin was a freshman playing baseball for the University of Nevada, Reno, but had been diagnosed with a heart condition called, Cardiomyopathy. The diagnosis came during his preseason physical administered by the Nevada athletic department in 2015.

The condition put Austin at a three percent chance of suffering heart failure and forced him to medically redshirt his freshman season. Unfortunately, he was not wearing his assigned defibrillator vest when he died from heart failure at the young age of 19.

“No one knew about the condition until they diagnosed it,” Kerry Gorrell, Austin’s father, 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, Austin was a standout catcher for the J.W. North Huskies out of Riverside. When the young baseball player’s sudden death shook the Inland baseball community, that same community came together to ensure his legacy gets carried on forever. The Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic was brought to fruition by his family and friends to not only help honor Austin, but to also help local players with scholarship opportunities for college.

Family members of the late Austin Gorrell sell merchandise at the kick-off homerun derby event, held at Ryan Bonaminio Park in Riverside Friday, Nov. 23. JP Raineri photo.

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. Tournament organizer, Billy Trudel, a former youth coach of Austin’s, and a friend of the family, knew his former player had a lot of passion for the game.

“Year after year we will show up to honor Austin’s memory and every year, I am always amazed at how many more supporters come together in his name,” says Trudel. “We know Austin is proud of how much this has benefited so many others.”

The lead up to the tournament games has all the makings of any big-time fan fest, which includes a home run derby that was held Friday, Nov. 22, at Ryan Bonaminio Park in Riverside, where almost every team in the tournament had representation this year. It’s also an opportunity for the Gorrell family to interact with the baseball community and share their son’s story with those in attendance.

This year, after the first round of home run derby, a special video presentation was shown on a big screen TV memorializing Austin’s journey, telling a story that left no one with dry eyes. Also in attendance was LA Dodgers third base coach, Dino Ebel who, along with RC Quakes coach Mark Kertenian, is said to have played a role in Austin’s recruitment to the University of Nevada, Reno. This year, Elijah Buries of Orange Lutheran High School took home the title of HR Derby winner with 62 home runs overall.

A major draw this time of year for teams and coaches is that they get an early gauge on their rosters, in a real game environment. The games themselves don’t count toward the participants’ regular season win-loss totals since CIF-Southern Section sanctioned games don’t take place till early February of 2020. The championship game, held at Cal Baptist University’s James W. Totman Stadium, does pull in just as much excitement as any CIF finals game though, which will be held Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 5 p.m. Both Ebel and Kertenian will be on hand as guest speakers that night and will also help the Gorrell family disperse scholarship checks to seniors that were selected by submitting essays to the tournament committee – on why they deserve the scholarship.

Vista Murrieta’s Zach Rodriguez, who will be playing at UC Santa Barbara after graduation, competes in the home run derby at this year’s 5th annual Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic. JP Raineri photo.

“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, who also noted some struggles behind this year’s build up to the tournament. “As the tournament grows each year, we know there are costs associated with putting something like this together, but one of our biggest issues this year is the price of the umpires, which doubled, so that means less money could potentially go to the kids. It could be even harder to reach our mark of $25,000 in scholarships, but I have faith that we will accomplish our goal at the end.”

At each host site there are Gorrell family representatives that sell merchandise, where all the proceeds go back to the tournament for the Austin Gorrell Scholarship fund.

“We really pray that people understand the story behind what this tournament means to our family and that they realize their donations and purchases go back to seniors looking to play the game at the next level,” says Kerry.

Local high school teams competing this year include Heritage, Tahquitz, Chaparral, Temescal Canyon, Murrieta Mesa, Vista Murrieta and West Valley. Preparations are already underway for next year’s tournament. To find out more info visit www.austingorrellbaseballclassic.com.

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