It was early August, and the annual National Baseball Congress World Series was underway. The 81-year old tournament spans two weeks, and brings to town talented young adult players and teams from the far corners of North America. I look forward to it each year, and try to get to at least a few games. On weekends, they play round-the-clock. I managed to stay until morning once … back in 2009.
This year an amazing thing happened. A group of ex-MLB players formed a team and entered the tournament. They called their team the Kansas Stars.
We saw Roger Clemens pitch, with his son Koby Clemens as his catcher.
Roger also played catcher one night, to ceremonial first-pitch thrower, Toby Keith, who also suited up and helped manage the team.
The games were sold out; the stadium was packed, and people were watching through the outfield fence.
We saw KC Royals World Series pitcher Jeremy Guthrie pitch…
… and 1st Base/batter extraordinaire and super-dad Adam LaRoche play first base and hit home runs.
Drake LaRoche was on the field warming up with his dad and other Stars.
The team roster of former pros who came to town tells the story. Check it out. I can’t adequately express my appreciation and admiration to them for coming.
But the thing is, with all of this star power, it wasn’t seeing the Stars play as much as it was seeing them form a team together, and being competitive again for love of the game, and for their fans’ love of the game, and love for a historic tournament. The former MLB stars were personable and accessible; posing endlessly for selfies and signing autographs with complete generosity, taking their time with kids and adult fans alike.
On the field, they were competitors to the core. Each game was a good one. In the tournament semi-final game, the Stars fought for 17 innings against a young, uber-talented team from Hays, KS. The Stars went through pitcher after pitcher; ultimately drafting players from the field to pitch to keep the game going. Just after midnight, Hays sent the Stars packing, with a run that broke the 10-10 tie score. The next night in the tournament final, Hays fell to the Santa Barbara Foresters.
This special team and the tournament got a lot of attention in the press and in baseball blogs. The final game of the tournament was carried nationally by ESPNU and WatchESPN. Those writers and commentators have captured the magic of the moment so much better than me. But for me it was a privilege to have experienced those seven straight magical nights in the ballpark in August 2016. It was an emotional thing I won’t ever forget.
Summer is over, and we are well into a gorgeous Autumn. But the Summer of 2016 is one of those I will hold onto in my heart.