Legion baseball: Newman name a good omen for Rowan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 2009

By Bret Strelow
SUMTER, S.C. ó Rowan County coach Jim Gantt, a devoted New York Yankees fan, is looking forward to visiting Roger Maris’ hometown.
The American Legion World Series begins Friday in Fargo, N.D., at Newman Outdoor Field, which retired the No. 8 worn by Maris as a member of the Fargo-Moorhead Twins in the 1950s. The 4,500-seat facility has outfield dimensions similar to those at the old Yankee Stadium.Rowan, which qualified for the World Series by defeating Tuscaloosa (Ala.) in the Southeast Regional final Monday night, calls Newman Park home.
“The Newman part is more of an omen than the Yankees part,” Gantt said.
An eighth-inning balk, along with stellar defense and sterling relief pitching from Billy Veal, carried Rowan (37-8) to a 3-2 win that sets up a matchup with Central Plains Regional champion Festus (39-4) out of Missouri. That opening-round game will likely begin after 9:30 p.m. EST (or 8:30 p.m. in North Dakota) on Friday.
The other six teams in the field are Berlin (Conn.) from the Northeast Regional, Mt. Airy (Md.) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional, Texarkana, Texas, from the Mid-South Regional, Midland (Mich.) from the Great Lakes Regional, Medford (Ore.) from the Northwest Regional and defending champion Las Vegas from the Western Regional.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gantt said. “When we first started, we thought we’d have a chance to win in our league. We just didn’t know if we’d have a chance to win the state championship, let alone this one. We thought if we got any pitching at all we’d have a chance because our lineup was going to be pretty good.”
Gantt went to bed at roughly 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and the team was required to stay in Sumter in advance of today’s flight to Fargo.
Washing clothes and having commemorative patches placed onto uniforms were the main orders of business during a relatively uneventful Tuesday.
“I’m thinking about telling them we’re going to go practice at about 4 o’clock to see what they say,” Gantt joked Tuesday morning.
“We’re not going to eat at CiCi’s Pizza again, I can tell you that. We’ve eaten that enough. First time in my life I’ve said I was tired of pizza, and I never thought that would happen. It took 43 years.”
The team was scheduled to leave its Sumter hotel for the Columbia Metropolitan Airport at 4:45 a.m. this morning.
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent Northern League play in the 13-year-old stadium on the campus of North Dakota State. Newman Park and Newman Outdoor Field are separated by 1,438 miles, and at least a few people planned to make the 21-hour drive from Salisbury.
Rowan center fielder Jon Crucitti, a football standout at West Rowan High School, and several teammates have never flown on a plane. He made a road trip earlier this summer to a football camp at Rice, which is located in Houston.
“Sixteen hours there and 17 hours back,” Crucitti said. “This is going to be fun.”
Rowan’s run into mid-August has forced coaches, players and parents alike to adjust their schedules.
Crucitti and shortstop Preston Troutman, a rising senior at East Rowan High School, have missed practices with their respective football teams.
Gantt, Catawba College’s baseball coach, will be absent this weekend when new players report to campus. Catawba assistant Michael Lowman, a member of the Rowan squad that reached the World Series in 1996, will accept additional responsibilities.
Steven Sawyer, a Catawba and Rowan County assistant, is getting married to Angela Rodriguez in the first week of September. He hasn’t seen his fiance very often in the last few weeks.
“Part of the wedding planning was around baseball being over but before Catawba got started,” Sawyer said. “It’s not going to be an issue at all, and it’s probably better that I stay out of the way. It’ll probably go smoother if I’m not around to mess anything up.”