When the National Baseball Congress World Series begins next month, it will have a slightly different look. For one thing, the tournament will go from a double-elimination format to one featuring pool play. Oh, and a team almost entirely composed of former MLB players, with Roger Clemens foremost among some big names, will be taking part.
This will be a first for an event that NBC describes as “the premier summer showcase in the nation for college-age amateur baseball players.”
At 53 years old, Clemens is of course long past college-age, having helped the Texas Longhorns win the College World Series in 1983. Then came a major league career that included seven Cy Young awards, two World Series titles and what would have been certain induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame if not for accusations of steroid use.
Clemens last played for an MLB team in 2007, when he pitched for the Yankees in a playoff series against the Indians, but he is set to toe the rubber for the Kansas City Stars at the NBC World Series. The tournament will take place, as it has since 1935, at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita, Kan.
Joining Clemens on the Stars are other former MLB all-stars such as Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, Roy Oswalt, Dan Uggla, Brad Penny, Jason Isringhausen, J.D. Drew, Jack Wilson and Brandon Inge, all of whom are volunteering their services. The squad, organized by Nate Robertson and Adam LaRoche, also includes Rick Ankiel, Carl Everett, Laynce Nix, Brett Tomko, Pete Orr and Ryan Langerhans.
Clemens will be joined by his son Koby, a minor-league instructor for the Astros and, at 29, the team’s youngest participant. He’s also the only one of the 25 Stars without any major-league playing experience.
“I started calling some of the former Tigers that I played with, and then a guy would call another guy,” Robertson told The Wichita Eagle (via kansascity.com). “Most recently, Roger Clemens is going to be one of our pitchers and Josh Beckett reached out to him. [The roster] just kind of got some legs to it, and here we are.”
“I put out a feeler, a text message, and I was blown away at the response,” LaRoche said. “And I mean, right away, guys responding and were really excited about it, wanting more and more information. I think something about being out of the game, whether it’s for a couple months or a couple years, not having that competition is what guys so excited to get back out and play the game.”
“They’re not coming to play in one exhibition game,” tournament director Kevin Jenks said (via kansascity.com). “We know these guys have committed 100 percent, they’re all-in. They haven’t asked for appearance fees or anything. … They still have competitiveness in them.”
LaRoche, a Kansas native, played 12 MLB seasons before abruptly retiring this year while in spring training with the White Sox. “I picture this being more of a backyard, group-of-guys get-together to go have a lot of fun and compete,” he said. “Kind of bring back that feeling that we all had in high school and college and the minor leagues, when everybody is truly pulling in the same direction and pulling for each other and, win or lose, just enjoying it and having a good time.”
Some players who participated in the tournament and then went on to big-league success have been named “NBC Graduates of the Year.” They include Clemens, as well as Ron Guidry, Dave Winfield, Tony Gwynn, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence.