Diamond love

With no keynote speaker, JUCO banquet focuses on players, game

JUCO Tournament Chairman Jamie Hamilton gets some laughs Friday night during the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series banquet after jokingly announcing he was running for president of the U.S. After deciding not to have Curt Schilling speak at the annual pre-tournament event, Hamilton and the JUCO committee decided to keep the focus on the players and the game of baseball.



All the feedback Jamie Hamilton received the past three weeks helped mold the way he approached his speech to open the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series banquet Friday night.

Hamilton, the longtime JUCO tournament chairman, addressed the comments he’d received for what he called “choices” the committee made and how those choices were “based on what’s best, and not what’s easiest.”

He added he’d been called “spineless, an idiot, and all-knowing,” and he was saying this to make his upcoming announcement easier to understand.

“It’s time for a change,” he said to a silent crowd at Two Rivers Convention Center.

“In keeping with what’s going on in our country,” he continued, “I would like to used this platform to announce ... my candidacy for president of the United States of America.”

The crowd roared with laughter.

The decision Hamilton referred to — not one that would be on the ballot in November — came in April. Former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling, who was going to be the keynote speaker for the banquet, was asked not to speak. That came after Schilling, a former Yavapai College (Arizona) player who won World Series titles with Boston and Arizona, was terminated from his job as a baseball commentator on ESPN for his social media comments regarding transgender people and public bathrooms.

Hamilton admitted he and the committee drew harsh criticism after the decision to not allow Schilling to speak, adding that doing so would take the focus of the tournament away from the players.

“For the last three weeks, I’ve laid awake at night thinking about everything that’s happened,” Hamilton said after the banquet. “Honest to goodness, the idea for that (speech) came to me at 2:30 in the morning. I said to myself, ‘You know what? People know I’m a little sarcastic, and people have been pretty sarcastic with me for the past three weeks.’ “

Hamilton said he and the JUCO committee made attempts to contact other potential speakers. Many, however, turned down the offer because they “didn’t want to be the guy after” Schilling, who would have been the first former player to serve as the tournament’s speaker.

Instead, the committee took in the positive feedback and ideas from members of the community, ranging from a highlight-reel video, to having Hamilton take the reins himself as the keynote speaker. The result was a combination of those ideas while incorporating the initial theme: A highlight-reel video that included video testimony from former JUCO players.

Among them was Wes Rogers, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2014 after playing for Spartanburg Methodist College (South Carolina) at JUCO in 2014. Another was University of New Mexico baseball coach Ray Birmingham, who coached New Mexico Junior College to a national championship in 2005 and a runner-up finish in 2007.

“You’re going to be standing on a field with a lot of great history and a lot of great players,” Birmingham said in the video. “You guys are the best. Junior college baseball is the best. You ride in an old beat-up bus at 5:30 in the morning with a sack lunch and potato chips to play a doubleheader. You want to play baseball. You don’t care what it looks like ... as long as you get to play the great game of baseball.”

Hamilton said that finished product, which included highlight-reel plays to the musical backdrop of artists like Eminem and Ludacris, wasn’t finished until 2 p.m. on Thursday.

“We figured if we wanted to keep the focus on the student-athletes, why not get some guys who have a lot of great memories from the tournament?” Hamilton said. “People reached out to us and ... it actually became pretty easy. I think it went over pretty well.”

 

 


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