To avoid confusion, 2017 tourney is 60th annual JUCO World Series

I was born the week after the first NJCAA National Baseball Invitational Tournament was played in 1958 in Miami, Oklahoma. I was 0. The tournament was 1.

Somewhere in the boxes and boxes of photos we cleaned out of the A-frame on the lake after my mother passed away is a photo of me on my first birthday, chocolate cake all over my grinning face.

That same day, the first Junior College World Series baseball game was scheduled to be played in Grand Junction. It rained.

I was 1. JUCO was 2.

That’s a somewhat simplified way to explain some confusion about the whole “how old is JUCO” question that pops up every few years, mainly when there’s a milestone anniversary.

I’ve gotten phone calls and emails, as has JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton, calling into question whether the JUCO Committee jumped the gun on celebrating the 60th anniversary this year.

When you get right down to it, yes and no.

By strict definition, the 60th anniversary of JUCO isn’t until next year. An anniversary, according to Merriam-Webster, is the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event. Your first wedding anniversary is 365 days after you get married, the same as your first birthday is one year after you were born.

So technically, this is the 59th “anniversary” or “birthday” of the first NJCAA baseball championship.

But it is the 60th year of the tournament. The 60th annual JUCO World Series.

When you do the math, it gets very confusing. If you subtract 1958 from 2017 you get 59, and that works when you’re calculating a person’s age.

But when you’re determining how many times a tournament has been played, you can’t do the math. You have to count, and if you go to the tournament website, and to the “history” link, you can find every score of every game that’s been played in the history of the event. Another link gives you the score of every championship game.

Starting with the 1958 title game, when Cameron College (Oklahoma) defeated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 9-6 for title No. 1, there have been 59 champions crowned. Either Friday or Saturday, JUCO will crown No. 60.

Pitching at altitude: Chipola College (Florida) reliever Junior Harding talked Tuesday about how hard it was to get on top of his breaking ball. Every team except the College of Southern Nevada plays in heavier air than Grand Junction, more humid air, and the pitchers have struggled to get the ball to move like it has all season.

The air is dry, it’s thin, and more than one pitcher has talked about pop flies turning into home runs. Chipola coach Jeff Johnson has been telling his pitchers they have to get more on top of the ball and really emphasize the downward action or the ball just won’t break the same as in Florida. Teams generally arrive in Grand Junction on Wednesday or Thursday, and Johnson had his back-end pitchers throw live batting practice, so they might be a little more acclimated. The next time Chipola qualifies, Johnson said, he’d like to try to get out a day or two earlier and play an intrasquad game or two, as the Indians did during their time between the Gulf District and the World Series, simply so his pitchers can get a feel for the ball.

Johnson was surprised to hear that in each of the first 11 games, the winning team had scored 10 or more runs. That trend continued to Game 11, when Cowley College (Kansas) beat Crowder College (Missouri) 11-5. Part of that can be attributed to pitchers walking so many batters — “I think we walked and hit a small village in two games,” Florence-Darlington Tech coach Preston McDonald said — but also some good hitting.

“The hitters are hot this week,” Johnson said.

Recruiting boon: McDonald said the Stingers’ first trip to the JUCO World Series can do nothing but help his program, especially in recruiting. The school doesn’t have its own baseball field, but that’s changing, with a baseball and softball facility in the works. He said his club might not have had the sheer talent of some of the top-ranked teams they played, but he was happy with how the Stingers competed, and now he has first-hand experience at what Grand Junction is all about.

And, he said, the rave reviews he heard from other coaches in the Eastern District are true.

“What a wonderful experience it’s been for these guys,” McDonald said. “Grand Junction people here have been so welcoming; they’ve treated our guys like rock stars.”

Flashing leather: Connor Litton, who played third base for Cowley College (Kansas) last season, made some spectacular plays at shortstop Tuesday for the Tigers. He fielded one ball behind second on the run, stepped on the bag and fired to first for one double play, then made a diving stop of a ball up the middle, and, still on his belly, flipped the ball to second for a forceout in the Tigers’ win over Crowder College (Missouri).

MLB.TV: Games Friday and Saturday will be streamed on MLB.TV for the second straight year. Daron Sutton will call the play-by-play, with former Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson serving as the analyst. Stephenson attended the JUCO World Series in 2015 to watch his brother, Phil, coach his Dodge City Community College (Kansas) team.

Shannon Ford will conduct interviews of players, coaches and tournament officials during the broadcast. The games will be shown in high definition on computers and mobile devices.

Side-by-Side: Judging by the number of ticket stubs in the jar, there’s plenty of interest among fans in the Honda Side-by-Side ATV that’s being raffled during the tournament. The vehicle is wrapped in the JUCO World Series logo and comes with a trailer. Raffle tickets are $5 each, with proceeds benefiting JUCO, Challenger Baseball and Grand Mesa Little League. The winner will be drawn before Friday night’s game.

Game 12

Cowley 11,

Crowder 5

up next: Cowley vs. Wabash Valley-San Jacinto winner,
7:30 p.m., Thursday
Crowder is eliminated


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