Three days after longtime Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s manager/business manager Mike Rooney announced that the American Legion baseball team had folded, the sense of disbelief still lingers.
Rooney announced Wednesday that the A’s organization would cease, and that the A’s feeder AA junior team, the Blue Springs Elks, would take the spot in AAA senior ball next summer, barring any further problems with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The man who has been the face of A’s the past 30 years sighed, and added, “I feel like a part of me has died” when he made the announcement Wednesday.
Many of his former players and coaches agree.
“It’s unbelievable,” said former A’s pitcher Alex Duvall. “Some of the best times of my life were with the A’s. Mike didn’t just teach us how to play baseball, he taught us how to be men.
“I remember how mad he was after we won a game. He really got on us, and that’s because he cared for us and wanted us to be better players and better young men. I know I’m a better person because I played for Mike and the A’s.”
One the great legacies of the program was the way Rooney and his coaches worked to get their players college scholarships.
Rooney said 89.9 percent of his A’s players went 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.
Jordan Whitworth was not one of them.
I was one of the few from the A’s who didn’t go on to play college baseball,” Whitworth said. “I think I was the only one from my 2007 senior team that didn’t play in college. I would come back and see Mike and he would look me in the eye and ask intently how I was doing in college and continued to challenge me to better myself, long after I left the A’s. Mike truly cared for his players and I think that’s what made him such a great coach.”
Whitworth said he considers teammates from the 2007 to be members of his family.
“I still stay in touch with all the players from that 2007 state championship team,” Whitworth said. “It was truly my favorite team I was ever a part of. There was so much talent.
“But this is what made them so special – when my father passed away in October, so many of the A’s players that I played with showed up to support (my brother) Clayton and me through that difficult time. That was part of the culture that Mike and the other assistant coaches created.”
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 team was that it became more difficult to secure players because of high school players going to traveling competitive teams.
“Players are just different today,” Bush said. “It got tougher and tougher to get kids to play American Legion baseball.”
Rooney believes the lure of elite traveling teams was the ruination of the A’s.
“All you hear from parents today is that they want their kids to play for an elite traveling baseball team,” Rooney said. “They don’t realize the number of kids – kids from our program – who go on and get scholarships.
“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 - 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.
“Rooney was a guy who really got the most out of his players,” said Kyle Barbeck, a pitcher who went on to play Division I baseball at Missouri. “He had a passion for the game.”