JUCO notes: Midland’s Beck channels inner Willie Mays

Midland (Texas) College sophomore Blair Beck might be young, but he knows a little baseball history. Asked if he’s familiar with the famous catch Willie Mays made for the New York Giants on a long drive by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz to the Polo Grounds warning track in center field in the 1954 World Series, Beck quickly uttered, “Yes.”

The question was pertinent because Beck did a pretty impressive impersonation of the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer when he chased down a deep drive, on the run and facing the wall, to center field in Suplizio Field during the Chaparrals’ first-round game in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Beck faced other challenges in addition to the depth of the drive off Kaskaskia College cleanup hitter Dennon Koziol’s bat.

“There’s a lot of people in the stands with some white shirts on, so it was a little hard to pick it up,” Beck said. “As soon as it came off the bat, I took five hard steps, and the ball just kept carrying, and I’m not used to it. I’m used to that West Texas wind knocking the ball down. It just kept carrying, and I made a good read on it and was able to catch it.”

Beck also was ready for the moment thanks to practice.

“Coach Rod (assistant coach Hector Rodriguez) works on that a little bit with outfielders when we’re back home,” Beck said, “so I guess that hard work paid off, doing the Willie Mays catches.”

Got the message?

The Daktronics message board on the Suplizio Field scoreboard has given the scoreboard operators fits the past couple of years, shorting out several controllers that connect to the computer in the press box used to post hitters’ statistics and advertisements.

Another controller burned out during the RMAC tournament a couple of weeks ago and was replaced Wednesday, but that one shorted out again.

Finally, Ryan Springer of Sequent, which provides the wireless Internet at the stadium, had an ethernet converter installed, directly connecting to the computers in the press box instead of using wireless Internet. It, too, shorted out, so during the opening game, a different converter was installed, and midway through the third inning, the message board was working again.

Fans’ view of the scoreboard was briefly interrupted by a bucket truck, and fortunately no fly balls were hit near the scoreboard while the worker was making the repairs.

Striking out the side ... sort of

Palm Beach State pitcher J.D. Underwood struck out the side — in order — in the top of the fifth inning of Game 1, but still gave up one run.

How? The first batter, Alex Lee, struck out, but reached on a wild pitch. After Underwood struck out Bo Edwards, he then struck out Blaine Miller, but the third strike popped out of catcher Jon Corbitt’s glove. First base was occupied by Lee, who advanced on the passed ball, retiring Miller. Ryan Raspino then hit a sharp single to right, scoring Lee with the first run of the game and the tournament.

Freebies

Each JUCO World Series coach received a customized fungo bat from D-Bat Sports out of Dallas. Tex Tolman, who runs the practice fields for the JUCO Committee, arranged for the bats.

New Bat Sponsor

The NJCAA has signed a contract making Marucci Sports its official baseball and softball bat company.

The three-year deal begins July 1, so teams are still hitting Easton bats this week. The contract with Marucci will offer bats at discount prices. Marucci is based in Baton Rouge, La., and its products are used by several Major League players, including David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Andrew McCutcheon, Jose Bautista and Bryce Harper, who played in the JUCO World Series in 2010.

Marucci will sponsor an “Elite Hitter Award” for the NJCAA baseball and softball players with the highest batting average in each district in Division I, II and III beginning in 2014, and it will sponsor the weekly national rankings.

The contract with Marucci ends a long sponsorship with Easton, and next year the NJCAA will switch from Rawlings to Spalding baseballs.

Tournament firsts

First pitch: 9 a.m., a strike by Central Alabama’s John Michael Knighton.

First hit: Mike Stemle, Palm Beach, a double to left in the bottom of the first of Game 1.

First run: Alex Lee, Central Alabama, scored in the fifth inning of Game 1 after reaching base on a strikeout-wild pitch.

First home run: Palm Beach catcher Jon Corbitt, down the left-field line.

First strikeout: J.D. Underwood got B.J. Miller swinging to lead off the top of the third inning.

First double play: Dan Hudzina of Palm Beach started a 5-4-3 double play when B.J. Miller grounded to third.

First hit batter: Matt Mulroy of Palm Beach was hit in the bottom of the fifth in a 1-1 game. He was forced out at second on a ground ball by Gabe Martinez.

Busy day

Pam Beach (Fla.) pitcher J.D. Underwood had an OK day on the mound in the Panthers’ 6-4 loss to Central Alabama. But he had a busy day on the base paths.

The left-handed hitting Underwood was in the No. 3 spot for the Panthers and reached base four times. He had one hit, two walks and reached on a fielder’s choice. But he never made it all the way around the bases to score.

He said spending time at the plate and on the bases isn’t too draining, adding, “I really take it easy when I’m out there.”

Short game too short?

It’s not that Midland College coach David Coleman minded seeing his team defeat Kaskaskia 12-2 in five innings because of the 10-run rule. But, having a large lead and going a few more innings would have been fine, too.

“It helps (the pitching staff),” Coleman said, “but you also want to get guys across the line for the first time because there’s a lot of anxiety, just the environment and all the things going on. You like to get as many guys in the game (as you can).”

Great White north

Midland College has four players on its roster from Canada. Believe it or not, only Jeremie Fagnan played hockey growing up in the hockey-crazed country. See The Daily Sentinel later in the week for a story on Midland’s Canadian connection.

Taking two for the team

Central Alabama’s B.J. Martin came in hitting .377, but on Saturday the burly third baseman didn’t need a bat to have an impact. Martin was hit by a pitch in both the sixth and ninth innings. He came around to score both times for the Trojans.

Uh, That’s not us

The wrong logo was printed on tournament T-shirts for Spartanburg Methodist College. Instead of the Pioneers’ SMC logo, an interlocking SC was printed.

HOME-TOWN UMP

Jared Ferrans, who pitched at Mesa State College, winning 10 games in 2004, made the umpiring crew this year after being an alternate in 2012. Ferrans worked first base in Game 2, then was behind the plate in the night game between Navarro (Texas) College and Connors State (Okla.) College.

Opening-Day Attendance

The opening game drew 6,940 fans. The night game crowd of 8,991 brought the first-day total to 23,669, only 5,670 shy of the single-day attendance record of 29,339, set in 2007.

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