• Moran recalls 25 years of memories

  • For the last time this week, the scene at Hidden Valley Park is serene and quiet early Monday morning.

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  • For the last time this week, the scene at Hidden Valley Park is serene and quiet early Monday morning.
    Don Carey, the athletic fields groundskeeper for the city of Blue Springs, is replacing some of the 200 bulbs that had burned out on the main scoreboard at Jim Moran Field. The fields were being mowed and some minor repairs were taking place at the concession stand.
    Inside his office, at the base of the press box, Moran – the longtime manager of Blue Springs Post 499/Fike – is going over details with some of the countless number of volunteers and city workers who make the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational the crown jewel of summer tournaments throughout the Midwest.
    And Moran wants to make sure that everything is taken care of as this is the 25th annual invitational that began with 10 teams at Pink Hill Park after he and his longtime friend, the late Ron Johnson, believed it would be fun to see their players swing a wood bat rather than an aluminum model.
    “I’ve been doing this 25 years and I’m still married to the same woman,” quipped Moran, talking about his wife, Kathy, who made a quilt from T-shirts representing the first 10 tournaments, that now hangs in his office.
    “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 25-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 7:45 Wednesday with a ceremonial first pitch from Nick LeGrande, the youngster who made headlines recently when he “threw” an opening-game pitch from Kansas City to Oakland via the magic of Google.
    Moran took some time away from making sure the Fike Burgers and bats and special logo baseballs had been ordered and the volunteers were ready to man the gates and help take care of the three fields to take a trip down memory lane and talk about his 10 favorite Wood Bat moments.
    “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.
    Page 2 of 2 - “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 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 is this year’s 25th anniversary. 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 rookie starter for the Texas Rangers), meeting so many great people. But we made it 25 years. Who would have ever believed it?”
    Follow Bill Althaus on Twitter: @AlthausEJC

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