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Bob Lutz: Wellington thrives without star shortstop

  • Published Thursday, August 8, 2013, at 10:45 p.m.

Without Ted Williams in the lineup, the Wellington Heat are still making noise in the National Baseball Congress World Series.

OK, it’s not Williams the Heat is missing. It’s shortstop Joe Williams, who led the Jayhawk League in batting this season with a .406 average. Ted Williams might be the last big leaguer to hit .406, having done so for the Boston Red Sox 72 years ago.

Joe Williams has made a habit of it.

He hit .401 for Sterling in 2012 and topped .406 in league play for the Heat, who defeated the Hutchinson Monarchs on Thursday night, 2-0, to advance to tonight’s World Series semifinals.

But Joe has been a no-go for Wellington in the tournament. He disappeared after the regular season ended and didn’t tell Heat team officials where he was or why he was gone.

“We still don’t know what’s going on,’’ Wellington general manager Rick Twyman said. “We know he’s at home (in California). We’ve heard it was a wedding, a job interview, whatever. He’s texted players saying he was on his way back.’’

The Heat are doing pretty well without Williams, carried by offense earlier in the tournament and lifted Thursday by right-hander Brandon Marris’ two-hit shutout.

Twyman said attempts by him and the Wellington coaches to reach Williams have been unsuccessful. The team, meanwhile, has moved on.

“That’s the plan,’’ said Rowdy Andrews, who has replaced Williams at shortstop. “You can’t look down on Joe. You have to take it with a grain of salt and move on. I just hope that the guys on this team trust that I can help fill his shoes a little bit. They’re big shoes to fill because Joe’s a stud. He just had some personal stuff to deal with back home, I guess. I’m sure it’s pretty important.’’

Williams is from Compton, Calif., one of the toughest cities in America. He played two seasons at Compton Community College before transferring to Sterling, where he was one of the best players in the KCAC during his junior and senior seasons.

Twyman, who has been involved in summer baseball for years, said Williams is one of the best players he’s had. And a guy who might have been able to open the eyes of scouts at the World Series.

“He can flat play,’’ Twyman said. “Honestly, I projected him more in the outfield because he can run. He’s a 6.6 guy with power and he hits for average. I think he would have gotten a look here, absolutely. I get scouts asking me about him all the time.

“We had no trouble with him at all this summer. Zero. That’s what is so baffling.’’

Yet the Heat just churns on after finishing second to the Hays Larks in the Jayhawk League.

The team has been a big hit in Wellington, which hasn’t had a summer collegiate team since the early 1980s when the Dukes existed.

The city has spruced up old Hibbs-Hooten Field and Twyman, who moved the team to Wellington from Haysville after the 2012 season, said anywhere from 500 to 700 attend games.

“It’s been awesome in Wellington, such a good move,’’ he said. “It’s a great home for us.’’

Many of those 500 to 700 have been at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to watch the Heat in the World Series. And more are showing up with each Wellington victory.

“What’s really impressed me is that the other night, after a really long rain delay, we were out here playing at 3 or 4 in the morning and our fans were still here,’’ Twyman said. “There had to be 400 or so here. They’ve been great fans.’’

As of now, though, Twyman hasn’t committed to returning to Wellington for the 2014 season. At least he hasn’t told the town’s mayor, Roger Stallbaumer, that the Heat is coming back. He left no doubt when he was talking to me, though.

“The fan base in Wellington is outstanding,’’ Twyman said. “That’s where we want to play.’’

The great support isn’t lost on the players, either.

Andrews, who will be a sophomore at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., said his first collegiate summer baseball experience has been better than he dreamed.

“What a great fan base,’’ Andrews said. “I love it.’’

Yet the mystery of Joe Williams hangs over this team some. Certainly, it’s not affecting the Heat’s performance, but it has left people wondering what happened.

“We just don’t know,’’ Twyman said. “Fortunately we have a guy like Rowdy, who’s a real grinder. He’s played second, short and third for us. He hits at the bottom of the order but he’s a real grinder.’’

Andrews was 0-for-4 in Wednesday’s win over Hutchinson. Who knows what Williams might have been? And at this point, who cares? The Wellington Heat could be within a couple of wins of an NBC World Series championship.

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