All baseball players aspire to have the highest honor: winning the World Series. Having it on your home turf is an advantage. That is the opportunity that awaits the Tyler Junior College baseball team that is working toward the NJCAA Division III World Series that will be held in Tyler at historic Mike Carter Field.
TJC is currently on their second three-year cycle of the World Series bid. According to former TJC baseball coach Jon Groth, getting the World Series to Tyler was a welcome change.
“I would go to national meetings and the administrator in charge of each division tournament would give reports,” said Groth. “The Division III tournament was held in New York. It would snow during the tournament in May. The administrator would say everything is OK. The field is OK. The World Series shouldn’t just be OK. I told [Tim] Drain [TJC athletic director] that we should put in a bid. We got with the chamber and got the bid.”
After winning the bid, Groth went to the NJCAA World Series held in Grand Junction, Colo. to see how they ran their tournament.
“The tournament in Grand Junction is a big deal. It’s like going to Omaha [home of the NCAA Men’s College Baseball World Series],” said Groth. “I talked to the chairman and sat in on their final meeting before the tournament. Every person in the room represented a committee. Their volunteer effort was tremendous.”
According to Groth, the tournament in Grand Junction lasted about two weeks. They patterned the tournament in Tyler after the Grand Junction tournament.
A World Series committee of 10 to 12 people begins preparations for the next year’s tournament in the fall.
The tournament takes place over the course of approximately seven days. This includes a media day, a little league clinic and a coaches’ banquet along with the baseball games.
Little League teams have special relationships with the tournament teams.
“There are eight Little League teams that ‘adopt’ a team,” said Groth. “When the teams get to town, the little leaguers meet them at their hotel with cookies. Someone becomes the ‘team mom’ and they help the team out with things like directions or where to eat.”
The Little Leaguers also have the chance to interact with the team in several different ways.
“The kids look at these guys like they’re the [Texas] Rangers,” said Groth. “Throughout the tournament, they play catch with these guys. Some teams let them be the batboys or stand with them during the national anthem. The arrangement has been positive and it’s a way for the community to get involved.”
Several local businesses get involved with the tournament each year and contribute in different ways.
“Austin Bank, Azalea Orthopedics and SporTyler are some of our sponsors,” said TJC head baseball coach Doug Wren. “We also get food donations through restaurants like Chicken Express and Cici’s for our hospitality rooms.”
Cavender’s Boot City has donated several coaches’ gifts over the past few years that have left quite an impression on visiting teams.
“Most D-III baseball teams are from the north, places like New York and Minnesota. The gifts are Texas-themed and the coaches love them,” said Groth. “This is a tradition we’ve started. We’ve done cowboy hats, cowboy boots and I think this year’s gift is a belt buckle.”
According to Groth all of the hard work by the coaches, volunteers and members of the community seems to be paying off.
“Coaches tell us it’s their goal to get to Tyler,” said Groth. “We are a destination for 100 D-III teams. It’s a big deal.”
Having the tournament at Mike Carter Field is also special for the TJC baseball team.
“It gives us an incentive to play well,” said Wren. “It’s fun to score and hear the crowd go wild.”
Pitcher Eric Bingham said, “It’s a big deal. This is the field that we spend countless hours practicing and playing on so I feel it gives us an edge.”
Bingham was the starting pitcher for TJC during the 2010 championship game. According to him, that game meant a lot.
“It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and an honor,” Bingham said. “It was probably the most nervous game of my life.”
The future is very promising for the national tournament to stay in Tyler.
“We’ve got a good product,” said Groth. “It’s a pro environment and very cozy. The fans enjoy it. Tyler is a friendly place to host. The NJCAA has no motivation to leave.”