When Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball selected Phenix City as the host for its 2018 12U/60 World Series, it also assigned a Task Force member to oversee any troubles that would lie ahead. Well, a few days into the tournament, that Task Force member – John Pearson – was beginning to feel like the Maytag Man, very lonely.
In fact, Pearson’s only trouble to that moment was getting the names correctly for the Bonkid League team from Beijing, China with all of its Wangs, Songs, Tangs, Chens and Fangs on the roster into the iScore program used to allow people from other areas of the country – and world – to follow the World Series action.
About the only time Pearson did not feel lonely was around 2 a.m. ET when the team from China’s players were roaming the halls of a local hotel in which he was staying. After all, 2 a.m. ET to the team from China was 2 p.m. in their home country.
The reason Pearson felt like a lonely man? Well, the hard work being performed by the many workers and volunteers for the Phenix City Parks and Recreation Department.
“I just cannot say enough good things about the people in the parks and recreation department here and all these people who have volunteered to help run this World Series event,” Pearson said. “The Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Jr. organization sent me here to help put out fires and to keep the peace. I have not had to do much of either since I got here.”
The Director of the Phenix City event, who was also assigned by the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Jr. organization, Tom Wright was sure he would have to really get involved with how things would be run during the World Series when he arrived to torrential rains splashing over the area. No need to worry though, Parks and Recreation Director Todd Hughes and his staff had already anticipated the problem and covered the fields to be used with a rain tarp. The tarp kept those rain showers from causing significant delays to the event. In fact, the initial start to the pool-play games was delayed just a single day.
“I do not believe I have ever seen a group of people get fields prepared to play as quickly as this group has. I just knew we would be delayed by more than a day. If that had happened, it would have cost the local Phenix City Youth Baseball organization more money, the City of Phenix City more money, the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Jr. organization more money and of course the fans who came from miles away more money. Instead, things just kind of started a day late, but were quickly back on schedule,” Wright said.
Yes, Hughes, his workers at the parks and recreation and the many volunteers got the event rolling one day after it was scheduled to begin by rescheduling the opening day games to the morning and early afternoon of the second day. The opening ceremony was held at 4 p.m. ET on the second day with a parade of champions and the ceremonial first pitch being tossed by Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe. The quickly assembled contingency plan could not have gone smoother.
“We tried to look ahead and anticipate things,” Hughes said. “We were watching the weather and knew we needed to get the tarps on the fields. We had to keep watching the weather because we needed to get those tarps back off the fields before the grass turned yellow.”
There was no yellow grass to be seen.
Perhaps the hardest job Hughes had to do was find volunteers to work the early morning and early afternoon games that were rescheduled from the opening day. Everyone was scheduled to be at the facilities in time for the opening ceremonies of the first day. All games during the tournament through pool play had been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET each day. There was no need to worry, Hughes was able to find the volunteers he needed and the show went on as rescheduled without a glitch.
“A big part of our program with Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken Jr. baseball is to promote a spirit of cooperation through the sport. We want to build sportsmanship at all levels on and off the field of play. We want people to know what a great of a game we have. I think the things Phenix City’s youth program and city have done have helped us with that mission. It really showed what can happen when people decide to work together to make something like this event a success,” Wright said.
And both Wright and Pearson were also impressed by a gesture of goodwill that took place during the early days of the tournament. When a group of Phenix City people saw the team from China playing without cleats, they took it upon themselves to see that situation was corrected quickly. The Phenix City Youth Baseball organization worked out a deal for a discount on the cleats for the team with the local Hibbett Sports store and paid for those shoes for the foreign players.
“I think that may have been the best gesture I have ever seen a league do. It was heartwarming to see the people in this community step up to help make this experience special for those kids. They deserved to have the same experience as the rest of the teams here and Phenix City people saw that was done. I know the kids and coaches from China were very appreciative of the gesture. I certainly was,” Wright said.
Editor’s Note: The story about the Chinese players having the cleats provided through the efforts of the local youth baseball organization can be found on a previous page in this week’s Citizen of East Alabama.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.