Night of memories

JUCO speaker, Hall of Fame inductees reminisce about the past

Jessica Casebolt from Grand Junction shoots a photo of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College team with Mr. JUCO on Friday during the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series banquet at Two Rivers Convention Center. Palm Beach opens JUCO today at 9 a.m. against Central Alabama.

The Alpine Bank Junior College World Series banquet keynote speaker took a different approach Friday night at Two Rivers Convention Center.

Rob Miech, author of “The Last Natural,” turned his speech into a question and answer opportunity about his book and the subject of it — Bryce Harper and his one season at the College of Southern Nevada three years ago. Harper, who was the National League Rookie of the Year last season, is playing with the Washington Nationals now.

Miech gave some background on how he had an opportunity to be a part of the team, including road trips and hanging out in the dugout during that 2010 season when Harper and the Coyotes set numerous school records and qualified for the JUCO World Series.

“It was a luck beyond belief,” Miech said.

Then Miech opened the floor to questions from the audience, particularly the junior college baseball players.

Players asked if Harper ever lost his edge and how he was treated by teammates.

“I often saw how he acted beyond his years,” Miech said. “I once asked him if he felt like he was a pioneer. He said, ‘I’m not pioneer. Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby were pioneers.’ “

Before Miech’s question and answer, the National Junior College Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame inductees spoke.

Former Jefferson State (Ala.) Community College coach Donald Green’s sons, Chad and Derek Green, accepted their father’s induction into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. Donald Green died April 14, 2011 after a long battle with cancer.

“When we were young, dad would bring home a posterboard schedule,” Chad Green said. “On the end of it was the JUCO World Series. We would ask him if he was going to make it to Grand Junction each year. They never did. It was like a mystical place.

“Dad, we made it,” Derek Green said in conclusion. “We love you.”

Green coached Jefferson State for 30 years, but his teams never made it to the World Series.

Steve Hertz expressed gratitude to many people, but did something unique. After thanking and recognizing his wife and having roses brought to her, he mentioned every wife of the coaches of the 10 teams in the tournament.

The former Miami-Dade (Fla.) College coach led the program for 26 years, including a trip to the 2001 World Series.

This year’s trip to Grand Junction was worth it — even though he was pulled over by a Colorado State Patrol trooper for driving more than 80 miles per hour coming down one of the passes his first time driving in the Rocky Mountains.

“He asked what I was here for,” Hertz said. “I told him the JUCO World Series. He said he knew Jamie Hamilton (chairman of the tournament) and I got off with a warning.”

Jim ‘Skip’ Walker recalled the times he lead Southern Idaho to the JUCO World Series.

“I would watch the kids come in to Sam Suplizio Field and wonder what they were thinking,” Walker said.

Walker mentioned one player in particular, Chris Hanks, who is now the Colorado Mesa University coach, and how he led the team for two years, including winning the tournament’s MVP in 1988. Walker recognized Hanks and had him stand.

“I’m very honored,” Walker said.

The most recognizable and known inductee in Grand Junction, former mayor Bruce Hill, compared going into the Hall of Fame like getting an award for liking chocolate.

“I have the best seat in the house with a hard-working group that are the most fun friends,” Hill said. “I watch great amateur baseball with the best fans in the world.”

Hill is the tournament committee’s vice chairman and has served on the committee for 27 years.


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