Gordon is a team worth rooting for

How can you not be a fan of the Gordon College Highlanders at the 2012 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series?

I mean, really, you have to love them.

They keep showing up at night in the prime slot for exposure to Grand Junction baseball fans, and they put on a show. At least that was the case until Thursday night’s 10-0 loss to Iowa Western Community College. But for the Highlanders, such a setback is nothing new, which is why no one on their club is going to be surprised if they bounce right back against San Jacinto (Texas) College-North tonight.

Gordon coach Travis McClanahan cited the district tournament as a prime example. After the Highlanders were dealt a 12-2 loss by Middle Georgia College, they came back the next game and beat Middle Georgia for the berth in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

If they do return to the form of their first three games in Grand Junction, look out.

The Highlanders are a refreshing brand of baseball entertainment. When their bats are going, they’re unforgiving to white leather and red stitching vainly attempting to cover a tightly wound ball of string.

Then there’s the side show: the bullpen. I’m guessing when those boys are back home in Barnesville, Ga., they’re the ones the other college kids want to hang out with, drinking sweet tea and playing charades on Friday nights, of course.

Casting rods to reel in teammates for runs and posing for group pictures afterward. Dancing to the music played between innings. The Highlanders’ relievers are near-constant comic relief. And they can preserve a win, too, as Dylan Griffin and Andrew Fessler did Wednesday night in a 9-7 win over San Jac, guaranteeing Gordon would be playing tonight’s game, regardless of Thursday night’s outcome.

If the Highlanders haven’t won you over during this tournament, I’ve figured you out. You can be one of only a few kinds of people:

• A) You’re a fan of one of the other teams in the tournament. OK, you get a pass.

• B) You hate baseball.

• C) You’re heartless.

• D) You’re B and C, and besides hating baseball, you hate hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Boo to you!

For the rest of you who like baseball and have hearts, there’s more to the Gordon College story that makes what the Highlanders are doing in their first-ever trip way out West to the World Series endearing.

They’re not supposed to be here. Or so others thought.

Injuries ravaged the Highlanders before the season and early on, costing them five players.

A few players quit, several of them right before the regional tournament.

They’re allowed 26 players on their World Series roster. They brought 20 to Grand Junction. Fourteen of them are freshmen.

The Highlanders have a one-legged bandit at shortstop. Grant Massey pulled a hamstring legging out a triple during Gordon’s district final, but he played the remaining six innings of that game and has gutted out four JUCO games.

They have a designated hitter who, when he doesn’t have his knee operated on every year, wonders what went wrong. In the instance of being healthy, as he is now, his bat could crack Captain America’s shield. He had four hits and four walks in his first nine plate appearances and drilled a victory-sealing three-run home run in the Highlanders’ second game, a 20-13 slugfest against Jefferson (Mo.) College.

If rational thought says the Highlanders shouldn’t be here, they don’t have any use for such logic. Instead, here they are after a last month of the season in which Gordon figured some things out, got a firm handle on this team thing that unifies individuals and shapes them into a greater whole. It has won 22 of its past 27 games.

Losses in the regional and district tournaments were just another obstacle to overcome.

So, they should be here, doing what they’re doing. And even if you don’t have a rooting interest in Gordon College, if you like baseball, understand the game and appreciate people who can win a stare-down with adversity, then plant your butt in a seat at Suplizio Field tonight.

Gordon College is playing for a berth in the JUCO World Series championship, and win or lose, you’ve got to love the Highlanders.


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