Jim Moran is the co-founder and tournament director of this year’s 30th annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational.
But that nasty little vein that used to pop up and throb in his forehead about this time of year is nowhere to be found, as his baby enters its third decade, starting at 11 a.m. Wednesday, with pool play at four area sites – the hub at Hidden Valley Park and Blue Springs South, Blue Springs and Grain Valley high schools.
That’s because Grandpa Moran is having too much fun with his 2-year-old grandson, Jameson Moran, who is ruling the roost at Hidden Valley Park on a hot and steamy Monday morning.
Grandpa is having just as much fun as Jameson as he talks about the history of the oldest wood bat tournament in the Midwest, while the feisty youngster tells Grandpa about his love of trains, while mimicking the sound a dinosaur makes (he happens to be wearing a dinosaur T-shirt).
Moran, who stepped down as the manager of Blue Springs Post 499 Fike before last season, is still calling the shots at the Wood Bat Invitational, but there is a serene calm that fills the air-conditioned coaches office under the grandstand press box.
“I’m still the tournament director,” said Moran, who co-founded the tournament way back in 1989 with the late Ron Johnson – an eight-tournament field played at the north and south fields at Pink Hill Park. “But we have so many wonderful volunteers that my job is easy. My goodness, some of them have been with us 25 years.”
As if on cue, Jameson applauds Granda’s comment about his staff.
“This year, we have 25 teams from six states – Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois and we have a team from Middleton, New York!” Moran continues. “They’re en route now and should arrive sometime (today).
“They had been going to the Gopher Tournament in Minnesota, which our Fike team played in a while back, but they wanted to come out here and play in our wood bat tournament and we’re thrilled to have them.”
Major league players like Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who was inducted into the the Wood Bat Invitational Hall of Fame last year, Albert Pujols (Hi-Boy Drive-In) and Joe Crede (Jefferson City Post 5) have played in the Wood Bat Invitational, along with former big leaguers Nick Tepesch and Kris Johnson, both former members of the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s.
But it is best known locally for the success of the A’s and Moran’s Fike team. The two enter as two of the favorites after strong starts this season.
The A’s won their seventh Wood Bat Invitational title two years ago, downing Independence Post 21 6-1 in the title game. They enter the tournament with a 20-3 record.
Moran’s former Fike squad won the rain-shortened 2010 crown. This year's team, now managed by Doug Lohman, is 20-8.
“It’s great when the local teams do well, it sure helps attendance,” Moran said.
Moran has ordered 50 dozen Wood Bat Invitational baseballs, and for the second year in a row, is doing something different with the bats. Rather than giving each player a personal model bat, he is putting bats in the dugouts for each team to use.
“We’re stocking the dugouts with bats, so we’re able to cut down on our expenses,” he said. “You know, the cost of bats and baseballs goes up every year.”
Moran assures everyone that there will be plenty of Fike burgers to feed the fans and he’s excited about Wednesday night’s 7:15 p.m. opening ceremonies, which will include the induction of the newest member of the Wood Bat Hall of Fame, a first-pitch ceremony and the introduction of the winner of the $1,000 Jimmy Meyers American Legion scholarship.
“People ask me all the time if I miss coaching, and I tell them that I miss the interaction with my players and coaches,” Moran said, as Jameson discovers two baseballs under Grandpa’s desk. “This tournament gives me the chance to interact with everyone – and I get to do it with my best little buddy.”