These Tustin cops took a swing at an idea, now it’s an international hit
They just wanted to play more.
When Tustin PD Lt. Jeff Blair and Sgt. Del Pickney founded PoliceSoftball.com more than a decade ago, they were looking for more field time for their local slow-pitch team.
“We just wanted to give people a place to list their tournaments so we could see which ones we wanted to go to,” Blair said. “We never expected it to grow beyond Orange County, but quickly we started getting these East Coast teams and everyone started signing on.”
A simple forum became a go-to website for law enforcement teams across the country.
Someone suggested a World Series — a massive tournament where every team that participates on the website could compete for a championship title — so Blair and Pickney headed up the inaugural event at a five-field venue in Palm Springs.
The PoliceSoftball.com World Series outgrew the space and is now an international event that hosts more than 1,000 players from 30 states and Canada.
This year’s event, hosted in October, drew nearly 2,000 spectators to Big League Dreams in Las Vegas.
The event is competition among true athletes — many of the players having logged innings on minor league baseball teams or played college ball.
In this game, slow-pitch is not synonymous with slow-paced.
Players are skilled, aggressive and competitive.
“This is not a weeknight recreational league,” Blair said. “These guys are serious players.”
Seventy-four teams competed in this year’s World Series, including the So Cal Alliance — the team Blair and Pickney once played on that currently has players from Tustin PD, Santa Ana California Highway Patrol and Riverside PD on their roster.
The So Cal Alliance is the tournament’s winningest team, having claimed four championships since the event’s inception.
This year, the local team came up just shy of winning their fifth World Series and took second place.
Although competition is fierce, the World Series is about more than just softball.
Officers forge friendships on the field that often benefit the agencies they work for.
Blair and Pickney shared several stories about how contacts they made during World Series tournaments opened the door to scoring a critical prison interview or help from an out-of-state agency to make progress on a case.
“When law enforcement officers meet at conventions we glad-hand, share business cards and never see each other again,” Blair said. “The relationships feel a little hollow. Through this, real friendship are built.”
The World Series also serves as a way for hundreds in the law enforcement community to give back.
After two years of hosting the tournament, Blair and Pickney attached a cause teams could raise money for.
“As police officers, we like to give; that’s part of our thing,” Pickney said. “We like to try and give to something larger than ourselves.”
Nine-year-old Shevy Wright, who dreamed of becoming an officer, was the World Series’ first honoree in 2007.
Shevy, who suffered from an aggressive brain tumor, showed up in his custom-made police uniform and badge to throw out the first pitch.
He died just six weeks later.
The World Series has raised more than $20,000 for the Wounded Warriors and also raised funds for softball equipment for soldiers fighting in Iraq.
They raised money for a PoliceSoftball.com player battling cancer and also helped support the family of player and Detroit police officer Pat Hill, who was killed in the line of duty in 2013 while apprehending a murder suspect.
Every year, players wear a wristband with an honoree’s name imprinted on it.
The name on this year’s band was one Blair and Pickney knew well.
Just last year, West Palm Beach Police Officer John Scollo played on those astroturf fields with his team, the 3N2/D2E Lawmen.
The veteran officer took his own life on May 25, sending shockwaves through the police softball community.
This year, a blown-up photograph of the officer at bat in a previous World Series game hung from the fence instead.
Friends said Scollo had a magnetic personality that everyone in the room gravitated toward.
Scollo told the best stories and the most hilarious jokes.
When friends visited him in Florida, he always knew the best places to eat and how to score premier seats at local sporting events.
“Everyone wanted to be Scollo’s buddy,” Blair said. “It wasn’t a party until Scollo got there.”
Scollo’s death served as a sobering reality of the stresses many in law enforcement face, Pickney said.
“The police suicide rate is nearly twice as high as the general population and more officers are killed by their own hands each year than are murdered,” he said. “Scollo’s death hit many of us so hard. He was the guy you would never think would commit suicide.”
Scollo’s 12-year-old son, Kyle, was at this year’s World Series to honor his dad and throw out the first pitch.
The tournament raised nearly $10,000 for Kyle’s college fund.
In another fitting tribute, Scollo’s team won its first-ever World Series title to honor the man who loved the sport, but the people he played it with more.
“They are a good team, but nobody expected them to win,” Blair said. “It was like something from a storybook.”
Blair and Pickney said they expect to have many more of these kinds of moments — emotional wins, noble causes to compete for and plays worthy of ESPN’s nightly Top 10 segment — in future World Series tournaments.
“There’s no end in sight,” Pickney said. “We’ll run it for as long as people keep coming to it. It’s part of our lives now.”