Just when Jamie Hamilton thought he had seen it all came Sunday morning’s hail storm.
“In my 38 years or whatever with JUCO or at Mesa, I’ve never seen hail damage,” the tournament chairman of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series said before Saturday’s championship game. Some of the baseballs in Home Run Alley were damaged after getting pelted with hail, knocking off paint, but the field and stadium came away unscathed. “That’s crazy, just the way it angled on that.”
It was the first time in a few years Hamilton and some of the veteran committee members, dubbed the “Young Turks” when they started volunteering by former chairman Sam Suplizio, jumped in on the tarp pull alongside the next generation of “Young Turks.”
For the most part, the tournament was back to pre-pandemic mode, although there are still hand sanitizing stations and “mask friendly” signs posted, and, Hamilton said, people were smiling as they came into Suplizio Field.
The new seating behind home plate and down the left-field line proved to be popular, along with the larger, brighter concourse area behind the stands for fan traffic and food vendors.
“People seem to have adjusted to the seats. We had a glitch the first day (when internet at the stadium crashed, affecting the online ticket sales at the gate), which we expected, but people like it,” Hamilton said. “Ticket sales have been astronomical.
“(Friday night) we had a lot of people come through and they were patient, they got through it and they understood. People are smiling and that’s fun; that’s why we do it.”
On the field, Hamilton was impressed with how many pitchers were throwing in the 90s — and how many hitters were barreling up those 90-plus fastballs.
“We’ve talked about it two years ago, that baseball, pitching-wise, one year we had one guy out of 10 teams throw in the 90s, then we had the COVID year and all the COVID sophomores and now we’re seeing 95, 96, but these kids can hit it.”
One of the biggest changes in junior college baseball could be in the offing, with California junior colleges joining the NJCAA back in the discussion.
Several years ago, the president of the California coaches association came to the tournament and gave a glowing report when he got home.
“It was a unanimous vote with the coaches association, saying we’ve got to be here, and the they took it to their administration,” Hamilton said. “If you remember right, they said, yeah, that’s fine, just move JUCO a week later (after the California conference tournaments) and our administration said no.
“From what I’ve heard from the coaches that I’ve spoken to is it’s as close as it’s ever been to getting it done. As a baseball purist, I think it’s right, it should happen.”
The question is, does it mean the tournament would need to expand, or would it mean another realignment of districts to accommodate a California club? That would be up to the NJCAA and its baseball coaches association to decide, not the JUCO Tournament Committee.
“Does that get us to 12? We’ve talked about that from an energy standpoint (of the volunteers who run the tournament) or does that take us back to eight? I do feel if California goes into the Western District with Arizona, that’s not right, because those are two (baseball-rich areas),” Hamilton said. “I’m not too sure that you just don’t have a California representative by itself and then combine the Eastern with (another district because of the relatively few number of teams).”
The 10-team bracket is confusing — multiples of eight work best — but, Hamilton said, it would be hard to drop two teams.
“You’ve got, say, a Harford (Maryland) group that says, ‘That was the best experience and we’ve recruited because we got out there,’ even though they went (0-2). I get that. If I’m a coach, I’m yeah, you put top 10 in the nation (on your website and in your recruiting information).”
Hamilton touched on the family atmosphere the tournament has always had, relaying a text he received Saturday from Dale Tooker who couldn’t make the game and wanted to give his tickets to someone.
“I told him, well, your dad (Ed) got me involved. He said it’s pretty cool, my dad took me, I took Ryan (his son) and we just took our three grandchildren.
“I saw Ryan Monday night and Knox is his 5-year-old son. When I was coaching Grand Junction High School in the summer months, Ryan was a pitcher and that’s when my shoulder finally went out and I was scheduled to have surgery, but I was still throwing BP.
“Ryan was always the last guy in the order because he was a pitcher and I would always hit him. I would try not to, but my arm was numb and I would just smoke him (in the shoulder). So he introduces me to his son, “Knox, this is Mr. Hamilton, say hello.’ And he’s very nice, shakes my hand, hello, Mr. Hamilton. ‘Son, if you ever play baseball, don’t let him throw batting practice to you.’ I’m like, Ryan, you’ve got to let it go...
“But four generations right there.”