Mind you, I haven’t been down at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium very much this year. I’m kicking myself over that and don’t really have a legitimate reason or excuse. I worry about the future of the NBC World Series, now in its 80th year. But I commend the tournament organizers, and especially first-year tournament director Kevin Jenks, for working hard.
Jenks and his staff are doing their best in a difficult economy and a strange time for collegiate summer baseball. It’s gotten harder and harder for these teams to make ends meet and coming to Wichita, for most, is a difficult proposition.
But in being around the park for a couple of days now and talking to some people, I do have a few thoughts on the tournament. Here goes:
* Last night, Hays knocked off Santa Barbara in a thrilling game. It’s one of the best games I’ve seen in the tournament in a while. The Larks came back from five runs down to win, 9-7. Lots of excitement. It was tense. But what was the reward for Hays? The Larks get to play tonight (Wednesday) against the NJCAA national team, which beat Haysville on Tuesday night. That’s not a great reward, especially since the losers of those games – Santa Barbara and Haysville – get a night off tonight. That’s a flaw in the format of the tournament that needs to be fixed.
* Several people aren’t happy that the NJCAA national team is in the 30-team field. I wrote some about this in the newspaper this morning, about how I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that novelty teams like this one, Team USA in 1995 and the Chinese Taipei team from 2003 are at times added to the field. But I understand the concern. The NJCAA team does not have to go through the process of recruiting players. Players are assigned. And the coaches don’t have to raise money to come to Wichita, which is almost always the case for the summer-league teams that make up the biggest part of the field.
* Inviting these national teams helps fill the stands at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. And the NBC, after all, is a business. A non-profit business these days, but a business nonetheless. It’s important to appeal to baseball fans, and those fans obviously are enjoying having the NJCAA national team in the tournament this year. Team USA was a huge draw, as was Chinese Taipei. They’re good for the tournament, but only if the rest of the teams understand their value.
* And that’s the dilemma. I think most teams are OK with national and novelty teams being in the tournament, but they’re not thrilled at seeing big prize money go to these teams. Did Team USA, for instance, really need the first-place money it was awarded back in 1995? Probably not. So perhaps when those teams are in the field, they should agree to not be financially rewarded. It’s just a thought. And the topic is definitely worthy of more discussion.
* I do like the way the tournament is celebrating its history with PA announcements and mentions of some of the great players who have passed through the NBC World Series on their way to the big leagues. The 80-year history of the tournament is the best thing it has going for it. Just more than 100 current big leaguers are NBC alums, according to the tournament program. How many of those players actually played in the NBC World Series is not documented, though. And it should be. The selling point here is how many former big leaguers played in Wichita, in this tournament.
* The Boulder (Colo.) Collegians and Prairie Gravel out of Illinois, two of the storied names from NBC past, sent teams to this year’s tournament. But they were nothing like the teams from the past. Boulder and Prairie Gravel were made up mostly of young players, just out of high school. They weren’t frauds, exactly, but anyone who thought these two clubs were going to be anything approaching what they once were was sorely disappointed.
* Boulder won four championships from 1966-78 while Prairie Gravel won its only title in 2005 after a couple of near misses.
* The NBC World Series is diminished any time the Liberal Bee Jays aren’t in the field, which is the case this year. And it’s still hard to believe the El Dorado Broncos, who have won three titles in El Dorado and were a two-time champion when the franchise played in Wichita, were ousted in two games.
* The Jayhawk League, of which Liberal and El Dorado are members, has not had a good showing outside of Hays, one of the final two unbeaten teams. The tournament needs the Jayhawk to be powerful.
* Thanks for reading. I’m looking forward to being back out at the ballpark tonight.