A black or dark blue early 2000s truck with a white or silver toolbox is seen here driving away with a Sundowner enclosed trailer, containing thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment from the Murrieta Pony fields. Valley News/Courtesy photo

MURRIETA – When the coronavirus crisis hit, it is safe to say that the youth recreation sports leagues were left in the dust without a plan of action when it comes to how to handle an immediate halting to their seasons. Most are nonprofit organizations, and they count on their families and communities to support the funding for operations, as well as the many volunteers it takes to make a season run as smoothly as possible.

The Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball league is one of those leagues, and of course, they never saw this pandemic coming. Adding to the list of things they were not expecting, the league was recently hit with even more bad news when a thief stole thousands of dollars of equipment.

A break-in Monday, May 4, resulted in the theft of equipment that is now bringing with it a bill which is going to be hard to cover without funds flowing through the books, so they are looking to the community and its supporters for help.

“The COVID-19 lockdown has hurt our league financially to the point of being in survival mode,” a league administrator said. “We have been able to defer the rental of the property for a few months, but we still have maintenance and utilities to pay. With no income from our snack bar and tournaments, we are not sure how the league will survive the current shutdown. On top of that, someone decided it was OK to steal a trailer with some of our equipment from our locked complex. We are applying for SBA Disaster Relief, but we all know that may not surface in time to aid us in our imminent needs. We were graciously able to raise $10,000 from an incredibly supportive single benefactor, but we need to stay afloat and need help.”

Players from the Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball league anxiously await the restart of their season once the state of California allows it. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball is unique in that they have their own complex with six fields that they lease and maintain. Most leagues use city fields, so they have no ongoing monthly expenses. It costs the league about $360,000 to operate over a normal fiscal year, and they have an annual expense of $100,000 to maintain and operate the fields and facility, exclusive of major repairs. Needless to say, the league is running out of funds and will need to fundraise aggressively to stay out of a negative position. The income sources impacted from the suspended season are snack bar sales, ongoing weekly tournament donations, Storm Night fundraiser, their Summer Pony Classic tournament and collection of fall dues in the spring.

In a message to the league’s families that was sent out earlier this month, Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball said they were not canceling the 2020 season, merely pausing it.

“The board has a plan in place to continue the 2020 season, as soon as, the governor’s order is lifted,” league president Cas Lombardo said. “The season may be a little different due to social distancing, governing ordinances, etc. and of course, the possibility that the season may and will spill over into the summer months, but our sincere hope at MVPB is that parents will be cheering for their favorite player(s) soon enough. Our goal is to strive to put our community and passion back on track for our youth, our families and local businesses.”

The league will be working with community partners in the city of Murrieta, surrounding cities and the Riverside County Department of Public Health to ensure proper health guidelines that are and will be set forth are adhered to in order to protect their members to the best of their ability.

The loss from the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to be financially devastating to the point of nonexistence for many sports leagues, if they do not start to fundraise heavily or acquire a regular source of income.

“We are still hoping to complete an abridged version of the suspended season by end of summer,” Lombardo said. “The financial loss may be in upward of $100,000 or more dependent on restart. We have applied for EIDL through SBA and only received a $1,000 grant so far. Hopefully, a working capital loan of up to $150,000 is approved but no guarantees yet or offer has been provided by the SBA portal.”

A white male, in a black or dark blue early 2000s truck with a white or silver toolbox, is seen driving away with thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment stolen from the Murrieta Pony fields Monday, May 4, around 7:45 p.m. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Regarding the theft, Lombardo said he is working diligently with Murrieta police department as well as board members like Rob Glaser and Field Maintenance Chief Rich Hunter, who have a detailed list of the items stolen. The league has reason to believe the same person that attempted to break in and cut the fence twice in April is the same person that stole the items earlier this month. They are looking daily at social media posts to see if anyone has leads or is posting similar items for sale online. Included in the search is their Sundowner enclosed trailer, a Cub Cadet lawn tractor with bagger, hoses, a coupler valve key, fire hose nozzles, a wheelbarrow and their solar-powered motion security light. Right now, all remaining equipment has been moved off-site. Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball will try to get the $10,000 theft and physical damage covered from insurance if coverage exists.

Southern California Gas Company is working to send the league a donation, and Miguel’s Jr. is also stepping up to the plate with a fundraiser as well, he said.

“We did have a single benefactor from the Los Angeles area donate $10,000, but I want to keep them anonymous for now until we can thank them personally,” Lombardo said.

If anyone has information that could lead to the arrest of the suspect or was around the area of the Murrieta Pony Fields at Fig Street and Jefferson Avenue Monday, May 4, around 7:45 p.m., contact the Murrieta Police Department at 951-304-2677. The suspect is a white male, approximately 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-9. He drove a black or dark blue, early 2000s truck that was possibly a Ford or Chevy with a white or silver toolbox in bed and large sticker in rear window.

Murrieta Valley Pony Baseball has been a Protect Our Nation’s Youth Baseball Inc. affiliated organization since its inception in 1994 and is seeking donations. A GoFundMe link was set up by league treasurer Kim Pyle and can also be found by clicking here. For more information about the league, visit www.mvpb.org.

“Thank you in advance for your contribution to this because it means so much to all of us,” Lombardo said.

A video of the story from NBC News can also be found by clicking here

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.