By Mike Albanese, TSB Staff
John Fogerty once eloquently stated, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.”
And the City of McKinney is ready to once again play —host, that is — to the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC) Mickey Mantle World Series, which will return for its 18th consecutive year to Al Alford Field July 30 to Aug. 4.
Dave Gunter, tournament director since 2004, said the City of McKinney’s contract to host the event expires in three years, but noted the tournament could be staying in McKinney for quite some time.
“We have it as long as we want to do it,” he said.
Gunter, who both umpired and coached in the tournament prior to becoming director, said in prior years the contract was a joint agreement between the city and the McKinney Independent School District to use the facilities, noting the city had control over the fields during the summer months.
Gunter, however, said there is no longer a joint-use agreement, meaning tournament officials and the city work directly with MISD for field usage. During the school year, Al Alford Field is used as McKinney High’s home field.
The Mickey Mantle World Series has a long history with the city, with Gunter noting it was “Al Alford’s dream” to have McKinney host this event.
Prior to hosting the World Series, he said the city hosted the U18 Connie Mack South Plains Regional Tournament, but a group consisting of Alford, Tom Johnson, Gabe Nesbitt, Lindsay Gunter and B.J. Dixon pitched the idea to the AABC to host the Mickey Mantle World Series.
And in 1996 Alford’s dream became reality, as the AABC accepted McKinney’s bid to host the event.
Gunter said McKinney does a great job hosting the event, noting the facilities are “second to none,” and praised summer league president B.J. Dixon and the school district for how they’ve maintained the field.
“That field looks like a carpet of grass,” Gunter said, noting many coaches and players are amazed to find out Al Alford Field is a high school facility.
Gunter noted in 2003 that a team from New York made their way to McKinney, and to this day the coach tells him he has players that want to come back and move to McKinney.
How has the tournament remained so successful after nearly two decades? Gunter said the success comes from adapting and making changes for the better.
“We see things and try and make it better,” he said, adding the league takes input from coaches and players, and also utilizes different methods he may see at other tournaments.
Another reason the tournament remains so successful is because of the caliber of players that make their way to North Texas each summer.
“You’ll see some of the best 16-year-old players in the country – phenomenal players,” Gunter said.
Gunter said the talent level can range from teams that had three pitches who were clocked at 95 mph, which happened a few years ago, to a hitter that hit 16 home runs during the home run derby several years ago, smashing two balls all the way to the front doors of the MISD Athletic Office.
“We’ve seen some amazing young men come through here,” Gunter said.
On the flip side, Gunter said, there are the players that may not have all the physical ability yet, but “blossom” in coming years and turn into special players.
And special players is an understatement.
In 2004, the D-Bat Mustangs had a pitching staff consisting of four pitchers that have all seen major-league action. The staff included Allen High School alum Shaw Tolleson, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010, Mansfield product Jordan Walden, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2006 and traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2012.
That staff also included Zach Britton, who attended Weatherford High School and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2006; and the most notable name in the group was 2011 Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw (pictured, above right), who was selected 7th overall in the 2006 draft by the Dodgers.
In 2005, Blake Beavan competed in the Mickey Mantle World Series, and was drafted two years later by the Texas Rangers. Beavan, however, never wore a Rangers uniform, as he was traded to Seattle in 2010 as part of the deal that sent pitcher Cliff Lee to Arlington.
The 2013 version of the Mickey Mantle World Series will surely produce its star players, even if the field is not complete.
Along with the team from Puerto Rico, who plays in its own region within the AABC, Gunter said the host team will be D-Bat Nelson, who play in the North Texas Mickey Mantle league, and past tournament champions East Cobb Titans of Marietta, Ga., qualified for the 2013 tournament.
Gunter noted the tournament is set up for 12 teams, but the qualifying team from South Carolina will not be able to attend the tournament. He said the final slate of teams should be set before the beginning of next week.
Although the schedule states the tournament begins July 30, the first game will be played Wednesday, July 31. Stay tuned to TSB for complete coverage of the event.