The I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed as the 31st annual American Legion Wood Bat Invitational kicks off today at 11 a.m. with three games involving Blue Springs teams at Hidden Valley Park’s three fields.
“I’ve had a couple of sleepless nights the past few days – you know, waking up, thinking ‘Did I do this or did I do that?’” Jim Moran, the co-founder of the annual summer classic, quipped Tuesday morning.
“But I’ll sleep like a baby tonight because I know everything is done and we’re ready to go.”
This year’s invitational features a field of 25 teams from five states, with eight newcomers, including American Legion Post 246 out of Moline, Illinois, in five pools. Pool play is today, Thursday and Friday with quarterfinals scheduled for Saturday and the semifinals and championship set for 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday. The tournament will be played at Hidden Valley Park in Blue Springs, Grain Valley High School and Crysler Stadium in Independence (see full schedule on B4).
“I think baseball fans might be familiar with a former Legion player from that Post 246 team,” Moran said, arching an eyebrow. “(Kansas City Royals general manager) Dayton Moore played for the team. I know their coach asked if he could have Friday or Saturday night off because I’m sure they’re heading out to Kauffman Stadium.”
To start today at 11 a.m., the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s take on Jefferson City Post 5 on Field 1; Post 499 Fike, now managed on the field by Matt Hagerty, faces the Trenton (Mo.) Post 31 Blue Jays, on Jim Moran Field (No. 2); and the Blue Springs Black Sox meets the Branson Pirates on Field 3.
As Moran, the former Blue Springs Post 499 Fike manager, sat in his office under the press box at Hidden Valley, longtime volunteer and Wood Bat Invitational Hall of Fame member John Ogden paid him a visit.
“We couldn’t do this without great volunteers like John,” Moran said. “Our coaches, our parents – the fact that I have a very understanding wife – they all are big reasons why we’ve been able to put on this event on for 31 years.”
Ogden and his wife Suzanna have volunteered since 1992, when their son Johnie played for Moran’s Fike team.
“We’ve done it a long time and enjoyed every minute of it,” said Ogden, who handles all the ticket sales at all three locations. “But if you want to know the truth, we just don’t know how to tell Jim ‘no.’”
Both men laughed at that comment.
While they were discussing gate volunteers at the three locations, Hidden Valley groundskeeper Chuck Spooner and members of his team were putting the finishing touches on Jim Moran Field at Hidden Valley.
“I think we might avoid the rain this year – at least, that’s what we’re hoping,” Spooner said as he manicured the area around home plate. “They say a 20 percent chance of some thunder showers (Tuesday), then the rest of the week about 92-93 degree weather with a nice weekend.”
For the 30th anniversary last year, Spooner and his crew pulled out all the stops, with special anniversary logos and a rainbow pattern mowed into the outfield grass.
This year, they are mowing a reverse arc design that will stand out fans sitting in the stands and the press box areas.
“We’ve got Fields 1 and 2 ready to go and will be playing games on all three fields,” Spooner explained. “We take a lot of pride in this tournament.”
• The opening ceremonies will take place at 7:15 p.m. on Hidden Valley’s Jim Moran Field (No. 2). Longtime Wood Bat PA announcer Jerry Kaylor, a city council member from Blue Springs, will become the 18th inductee into the Wood Bat Invitational Hall of Fame.
“We usually like to surprise the inductee,” Moran said, “but we had to let Jerry know in advance so he could come down from the press box and get his plaque.”