There was an air of eerie silence at the Hidden Valley Park baseball complex Thursday evening.
The only sounds were the quiet whirring noise of Jim Moran’s Segway (please see related story) and the rhythmic digging of former Blue Springs Post 499 Fike standout Stephen Montisano, who was adding some much-needed dirt to one of the mounds at the American Legion showcase complex.
That will all change this weekend, when the fifth-annual Junior Wood Bat Invitational is played, and it will rev up a notch next Wednesday, when the 26th-annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational and its 30-team field rules Blue Springs.
Moran – the longtime manager of Blue Springs Post 499 Fike – is going over details of the tournament in his office, which is decorated by signed bats from each of his Wood Bat teams and a T-shirt quick-designed by his understanding wife Kathy.
Like he has said for 25 years, “I know I better enjoy the peace and quiet today, because once this starts, there’s no stopping it until the championship game on Sunday.”
The 30-team tournament begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Hidden Valley and Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools, with the opening ceremonies beginning at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Moran’s memory is sharp as a tack, and the longtime Legion manager, whose name can be found on the scoreboard of Jim Moran Field at the Legion complex, loves to visit past memories of the tournament he co-founded with his longtime friend, the late Ron Johnson.
“No. 1 has to be the Fike-Fulton Post 210 game at Pink Hill Park when we started (playing) at 4:30 a.m. under the lights and ended it by turning the lights off and watching the sun come up,” Moran said. “It’s interesting to see how many of these moments involve rain. We had a kid fall asleep on the bench and the players wrapped him up (with athletic tape) like a mummy. I saw that and had him go up and pinch hit – he was still covered in tape.
“No. 2 came in 1993 – the year of the flood. We only played 25 of the 83 games and I sat in (former Blue Springs South High School administrator) Dan McLaughlin’s pop-up trailer handing out all the refunds to the coaches from the teams.
“No. 3 was the year David Cook, who played for Fike, sang the national anthem. Yes, he sang it live. It was when he was a student at South, a long time before ‘American Idol.’ We never let him swing the bat because he was a pitcher, and we let him hit in that game and he got hit in the helmet. It’s funny, he was all right, but we told him, ‘That’s why we don’t have you hit.’
“No. 4 was the year our good friend (and former Missouri State Highway Patrolman) Randy Rice (whose son Rich is the communications director for the Texas Rangers) brought (legendary Negro Leagues star) Buck O’Neil to throw out the first pitch. Buck stayed around all night talking baseball with anyone who wanted to talk. The kids loved it. We all loved it.
“No. 5 was the year we finally won the thing – 2010. We won by a tiebreaker, which made some people angry, but we won it fair and square.
“No. 6 was 2009, when there was so much rain you could have floated a canoe from the parking lot down the sidewalk. Again, we had to award the championship via a tiebreaker, and Post 262 from St. Charles won the title.
“No. 7 was the first year of the Hall of Fame,” Moran said, battling his emotions. “I was so thankful that we could induct Ron (Johnson) while he was still with us. That was a very special night.
“No. 8 didn’t have anything to do with the Wood Bat, but it showed how big it had become. ESPN was interviewing a kid, and I don’t remember his name, who was playing in the College World Series. They were asking him about his biggest thrills and he talked about one of the biggest was playing in the Wood Bat Invitational.
“No. 9 was the 20th anniversary of the Wood Bat. When Ron and I started, we didn’t know if we’d have another one after the first one. But we made it to 20, and that was pretty special.
“And No. 10 took place last year when Nick LeGrande, the young man who ‘threw’ an opening-game pitch from Kansas City to Oakland via Google last year, actually threw out our first pitch.
“There were some great moments I left out – playing late games, getting games in between rain, watching Albert Pujols (the three-time National League MVP and former Hi-Boy Drive-In/Post 340 star) and Nick Tepesch (who led Rod’s A’s to a championship and is now a starter for the Texas Rangers). It’s been a lot of work, but a lot more fun.”