Mike Rooney is an old school baseball manager who still believes in a work ethic that leads to great success – both on, and off the field.
Before his team takes a 39-8 record into its 5 p.m. Thursday American Legion Missouri State Tournament contest against Jefferson City Post 5 in Sedalia, Rooney was talking about a player he hopes other members of the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s emulate.
“The game’s changed,” said Rooney, one of the most successful American Legion managers in the history of the state, “and it hasn’t changed for the best. I don’t think the game means as much to the kids as it used to.
“I hate to see kids just jog out to their positions, and not really hustle. I can handle the physical mistakes – all kids make them – but the mental mistakes drive me crazy.
“And the love of the game, well, it’s just not there for a lot of the kids. And that really hurts.”
He paused for a moment, wiped the sweat off his brow and took a deep breath as the turf at Hidden Valley Park in Blue Springs was more like a sauna than a playing field.
And he continued.
“But you know what makes it worthwhile? You know why I still coach these teams, these kids?” he asked. “Kids like C.J. July.”
He was talking about his shortstop, who leads the team in runs scored (77), is third with 41 RBIs and near the top with a .420 batting average, .520 slugging percentage and .531 on-base percentage.
“He loves the game – loves it as much as any kid I’ve ever coached,” Rooney added about July, who just graduated from Blue Springs High School. “And he gives 125 percent all the time. I just wish some of the kids who don’t get it would watch C.J., just try to follow him and do what he does.”
A sly grin then appears on Rooney’s weather-beaten face as he adds, “And you only have to tell him something once. He was No. 1 in his class – he’s no dummy.”
July, who will study engineering and try to walk on to the vaunted Wichita State University baseball team, is “no dummy.”
That .420 batting average pales in comparison to his 4.475 grade point average, which was No. 1 among his graduating class of nearly 550 Blue Springs seniors.
July admits that much of his school work comes easy, but he’s quick to add, “School work is always No. 1. My mom is a teacher, so you know it comes first.”
He scored a 33 on his ACT, but had to take a back seat to his older siblings, as sister Kaitlin scored a perfect 36 in 2009 and Matt a 35 in 2007.
When asked about sibling rivalry, he just grins and said, “We all know our ACT scores.”
But he does admit that being tops in his class was important.
“You know, being No. 1 is important, but it was more important to me to be consistent with my grades throughout my high school career,” said July, who never made a B. “I came close to a few Bs, and even talked to a couple of teachers about what I had to do to make an A in their class, because I wanted to be the best I could be in the classroom.
“And now, I want to be the best I can be playing for the A’s. My brother played for the A’s 10 years ago (winning a 2007 state championship) and I was the little brother who was always around the guys on the team.
“I love baseball. I can’t even tell you how much I love baseball or how much I love playing for the A’s. Rooney and all the coaches would do anything for us, and we’d do anything for them. I can see how he thinks the game has changed and how he thinks the players have changed because some of them have.
“But when you play for the A’s, you’re playing with great coaches and great players and you should be excited every time you go out to the field. I’m proud that he thinks I give 125 percent for this team, because I want to win.”
So, when asked which would bring more pressure – an appearance at the plate in a game situation, or taking that final test to determine the valedictorian, July has the type of answer one might expect from a kid who’s “no dummy.”
“I like both of those situations,” July said. “I like the pressure. I like the challenge. And I’m going to do all I can to succeed – at the plate or in the classroom.”