By Earl Watt
At this stage in the NBC World Series, there are a lot of familiar faces, and the Bee Jays are one of them.
It is not unusual to see the Kenai Oilers in the Top 8, nor is it a surprise to see the Seattle Studs or the Santa Barbara Foresters.
Even San Diego has been making Waves in recent years, and the transplants from the desert, Havasu-turned-Haysville is no stranger to a strong run at the national tournament.
If there is a wild card, it would have to be the Valley Center Diamond Dawgs, but every good tournament has one.
Still, there is the powder blue of the Bee Jays, perhaps one of the most familiar sights this stime of year at Lawrence Dumont.
Yes, there was a lull in the Bee Jay storm a few years ago, but community leaders like Jay Hay, Bob Carlile and others stepped in to offer support and expertise to the program, and they called in some favors to turn the program around.
One of those favors was Carlile calling Mike Hargrove and asking him to come coach a few weeks after Hargrove had stepped down as manager of the Seattle Mariners.
His salary — $1.
ESPN, The Sporting News and other national media outlets came to Liberal to see why Hargrove would come to this small southwest Kansas town.
And just like that, Liberal was back on the baseball map.
But that wasn’t the only big move. Recruiting took a turn as well, and all of a sudden, the Bee Jays turned in a fourth and third place finish in two years under Hargrove.
Enter John Martin, who assisted Hargrove and took over as manager in 2010. All the Bee Jays did was win the national tournament, defeating the Studs 9-6.
It was the team’s fifth national championship to go along with six runner-up finishes, and it puts Liberal in the top three most successful programs in NBC World Series history right behind Anchorage and Fairbanks.
And this team is not finished yet. Today, the Bee Jays play a former Jayhawk League team from Missouri, the Nevada Griffons, and a win will put the Bee Jays in the top six.
There hasn’t been a back-to-back national champion since Kenai did it in 1993 and 1994.
Whatever the outcome of the season, this team has overcome injuries, the MLB draft and a coaching change and are in the Elite 8. They have represented our community well.