With the Connie Mack World Series slated to begin Friday night at Ricketts Park, the city of Farmington is once again beginning to stir with baseball anticipation. The tournament is again loaded with a collection of national powerhouse clubs including the Legends from Miami, the Midland Redskins, South Troy Dodgers, and Arizona Firebirds. The Series is also welcoming several newcomers like the Murfreesboro Diamondbacks, who accomplished the near impossible last week in the Southeast regional when they knocked off both the East Cobb Yankees and Florida Bombers.
The East Cobb Yankees organization has a tremendous following in Farmington, a product of the tourney’s host family tradition, and the fact that they have been here practically every August since the mid-90’s. They surely will be missed, but Farmington always welcomes talent regardless of what uniform it is wearing, and the town is very excited to watch the group of 17-year olds from Tennessee that were able to win one of the toughest regionals in the country. Also headed to the Series for the first time are the Arecibo Lobos from Puerto Rico, who open up Friday in the nightcap against the host Strike Zone Cardinals from Farmington and Farmington’s own Dominic Moreno, who will be on the mound for the home squad.
Moreno is no stranger to the World Series spotlight as he took the ball last year for the Cards against the Firebirds in an elimination game. Moreno, signed at 2009 JUCO national champion Howard College, features a fastball that reaches the low-90s and two quality secondary pitches in the form of a breaker and changeup – the latter of which is the pitch to get excited about. While the Legends take on South Troy in the early game Friday, there is a realistic chance that the best arm of Friday night will belong to Moreno. Saturday’s match ups include Midland vs. the Danville Hoots, Murfreesboro against Sam Carpenter’s D-BAT Mustangs, and the Firebirds taking on the Ann Arbor Travelers, a newcomer but with a coaching staff that is no stranger to Farmington.
Travelers’ coach Jordan Banfield was a member of the Ann Arbor Braves, the last group from Ann Arbor to make it to Farmington, in 2005. That squad featured 2005 Gatorade Player of the Year Zach Putnam, currently a reliever in Triple-A for Cleveland. This Ann Arbor bunch features similar talent and several major conference signees, including three early commits in Daniel McKinney, Travis Maezes, and Jason Gamble. Of these three, Maezes has the highest ceiling featuring at least three average or better tools in the form of his bat, feet, and arm as a position player, and a low-90s fastball on the bump.
Sam Carpenter is once again on his way to Farmington for his zillionth CMWS appearance despite missing last year’s event. Instead the top 17-year old DBAT squad was able to win the tough 2010 South Plains regional. That group featured Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley, the 4th and 7th players selected in June’s MLB draft. Neither has signed yet, but they will both make well over $5 million. This year’s DBAT Mustangs are essentially last year’s team minus those two arms. They still feature premier talent like CF Adam Toth, who is signed at Baylor. They will not, however, be featuring last year’s SS, Mike Bernal. Bernal of El Paso instead is the SS for the host Cardinals. Bernal (signed at OK State) hits third for the Cards in front of CF Shilo McCall, who could very well also commit to a major conference university in the next couple of months.
The Redskins again feature a tremendous pitching staff of nothing but flamethrowers; three pitchers 6’8” or over (Chase Mullins, Matt Smoral, Taylore Cherry), who feature fastballs that reach the mid-90s, as well as Dillon Howard, Cleveland’s 2nd round pick. Danville is making its second trip in three years after qualifying in 2009, the first time a team from northern California had done so in decades at the time. Since winning the West in 2009, Danville has emerged as a premier national organization with appearances in many of the top club events. Their lineup features lefty and University of San Diego commit Robert Martinez, who got the win in the regional final against the 2001 West regional champs, the Orange County Renegades. Martinez features excellent command of a high-80s fastball with decent arm-side action as well as a tight bender, which also can command well to both sides of the plate. His changeup lacks fade, but he maintains arm speed with it, and a commandable changeup is a must to win in the high elevation in northern New Mexico. He very well could take the ball against Midland at noon on Saturday.
The Dodgers from South Troy have become the premier organization in the northeastern United States, as have the Arizona Firebirds in the desert southwest. The Dodgers won a nail-biter in the regional finals against last year’s CMWS representatives, the Ontario Blue Jays, 5-4. The Firebirds won one of two national qualifier events in Phoenix, thereby bypassing the formidable West regional. The other national qualifier took place in New Jersey and was won by the Florida Legends, who bypassed the Southeast Regional in the process. The Dodgers, Legends, and Firebirds all know what it takes to play deep into the week here in Farmington as Arizona won the CMWS in 2006, South Troy played for the title in 2000, and the Legends have played into the semifinals three times. This year’s Legends group is under new management and has a new financial situation, but the talent is still there. The 2011 Legends feature 3B David Thompson, who is headed to Miami, and CF Albert Almora, who has a chance at the 2012 first-round and is also headed to Miami.
This is going to be a tremendously exciting week of baseball as it always is. I can’t wait. We here at the Sombrero will certainly miss Griffin Phelps managing the host squad. He led last year’s Cardinals to the finest showing a host team had produced in a decade, but hopefully the Cardinals can continue to succeed in the way they did under Griff. With players like Bernal, Moreno, and Shilo McCall, they certainly have the talent. Best of luck to all of the tournament’s participants!