The words come slowly and solemnly from Mike Rooney, the former longtime Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s manager who has served as the American Legion baseball team’s business manager the past year and a half.
"The A’s organization has ceased to exist," Rooney said Wednesday afternoon. "The Elks, from the Double-A organization (junior team), will move up to take our spot as a Triple-A team (senior team)."
The man who has been the face of A’s American Legion baseball the past 30 years sighed, and added, "I feel like a part of me has died."
Rooney, and field manager Tom Bush – who announced this would be his last year of managing the A’s before the American Legion Missouri Executive Committee voted in the spring to cancel the 2020 summer season because the COVID-19 pandemic – said the reason for dismantling the iconic team is simple.
"We had to fight to get players, because everyone wants to play on a travel team," Bush said. "It got tougher and tougher to get kids to play American Legion baseball. You look back when Nick (Tepesch, who went on to a major league career) played, they went from playing at Blue Springs High School (the A’s feeder school) to playing with the A’s.
"It’s not like that any more. And on a personal level, I’m going to be 67 soon, and it’s not as much fun as it used to be. The kids just don’t care as much as they used to – and that’s just a fact."
Rooney backed that statement.
"All you hear from parents today is that they want their kids to play for an elite traveling baseball team," Rooney said, spitting out the words. "They don’t realize the number of kids – kids from our program – who go on and get scholarships."
Rooney said 89.9 percent of his A’s players have gone on to play at the collegiate level. That totals 351 players. There have been 27 A’s players reach the Division I level and A’s players have earned $3.5 million in scholarship funding. Three players made the major league level – Tepesch, Kris Johnson and Dusty Wathan – and several went on to play in the minor leagues.
"I talk to college coaches all the time who say they want players from American Legion baseball because they know about the team concept of baseball," Rooney added. "They aren’t ‘me, me, me’ players – they are team players."
The Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s started in 1991 and captured six state championships (1995, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2013). The 2003 team finished fifth in the American Legion World Series.
Following the 2019 season, the A’s had a remarkable 1,260-408 record (Rooney’s record was 1,233-401 as field manager), a .755 winning percentage.
"We won a lot of games with a lot of great kids, and I believe we won the right way," Rooney said. "We have kids from our program who are now doctors, lawyers, businessmen and great husbands and fathers ..."
He paused for a moment, and added, "... and a couple who landed in jail. But no organization is perfect."
Rooney does not know what he will do to fill his spare time now that the A’s no longer exist. He works at Rod’s Sports in Blue Springs and says he will find some way to keep his hand in the area baseball scene.
"I’ve talked with a few coaches and some individuals," he said, "we’ll see what happens."