Sparkling diamond

First JUCO leaves lasting memories

Good defensive plays have abounded during the 2013 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, including Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College’s Wesley Rogers holding on to make this catch Thursday despite running into teammate Shell McCain. Rogers’ catch couldn’t prevent the Pioneers from losing to Cochise (Ariz.) College on Thursday.

My first Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

I’d heard about it for years, but I’d never strolled through the gates.

These boys can hit, run, pitch and flat out play the game.

The quality of baseball is Everest high.

What a special event for Grand Junction. Such diversity with teams from all over the country, and players from all over the country, plus south and north of the border.

Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Canada dot the rosters of the 10 teams that qualified.

Midland (Texas) College had four players from Canada on its roster. Of course, the first question that came to mind for me was, “Why baseball instead of hockey?”

As it turned out only two players spent much time on ice in their native country. But one toted a broom while the other crushed pucks with a stick.

One player was into curling — the sport with a broom and a stone. The other player was a good hockey player but discovered he was just a little better at coming to the plate with ducks on the pond than he was slapping pucks on the pond.

As every team came and went, and now we’re down to only three teams, the one thing that was very clear: These boys can flash the leather.

There was good pitching and good hitting, but there were spectacular plays in the field.

Almost every game there was a great defensive play. No team can succeed without good defense up the middle. Time and time again, teams would make the tough play look easy. Improbable double plays become more routine than the morning trip to the bathroom at JUCO.

Every year, there are great stories that come out of the week of baseball. Special stories away from the diamond. Stories about out-of-town athletes who make this week even more special.

In the future, some of these players might have a shot at the Major Leagues.

But we will have to wait for years to see if any of these players have what it takes to make it in the Major Leagues. A couple of years ago, Bryce Harper sauntered through Grand Junction. He flashed his diamond brilliance and his fiery competitiveness that made him a can’t-miss prospect. Last year he was the National League Rookie of the Year.

For this year’s JUCO class, there are no can’t-miss guys, but there are lots of Major League maybes. These kids are only a year or two removed from high school. Spartanburg Methodist (S.C.) College outfielder Wesley Rogers was drafted in the 28th round by the Boston Red Sox as a high school senior. There may be others who have played this week who have already been drafted but most are just real good juco players. And that’s pretty good.

As these players continue to play and improve, they just might someday find of a spot in the ultimate baseball spotlight.

But that’s not really what JUCO is about. I’m sure many of these kids still dream of getting paid to play baseball someday. But most are getting to play the game they love for a few more years before it’s time to move on, put the cleats away and get a real job.

JUCO is baseball at its purest. Good young players, some great young players still playing the game of baseball that they started way back in Little League.

Before the tournament, Palm Beach (Fla.) State College coach Kyle Forbes joked that they were looking forward to playing in front of the large crowds in Grand Junction after having “about 17” in the stands for their home games.

From double figures to maybe a couple of hundred during the season to 4,000, 5,000 to the massive crowd of 11,998 that roared for Central Alabama and Midland on Monday night.

For local fans, there might be teams with a regional appeal, teams that have been here before, but the cheers are mostly for great baseball.

The big fly, the diving catch, stolen base, strikeout, double down the line — great baseball — everyone wins.

JUCO will be done for another year by Saturday, maybe even later today.

JUCO and Grand Junction go together like ice cream and smiles.

JUCO means something to everyone. After my first JUCO, it means quality baseball to me.

Great baseball by great young ballplayers — one champion, but everyone wins.


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