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Bob Lutz: NBC World Series improves, but there’s still more work to be done

  • Published Friday, August 9, 2013, at 7:23 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Sep. 29, 2013, at 9:31 a.m.

We had quite a scare last year with the National Baseball Congress World Series.

The tournament struggled, nobody knew exactly how the structure of ownership worked and there was talk that the NBC, after 78 mostly-fruitful years in Wichita, might be a thing of the past.

Well, don’t shovel dirt on the World Series just yet.

There have been signs of a revival. Crowds have been decent, though soggy thanks to all of the rain that has fallen during the past couple of weeks. A new format, designed to cut costs for teams that travel long distances to get to Wichita, has worked as well as could have been expected.

And with the Seattle Studs in position to win their first title after finishing second three of the previous five years, the tournament is on higher ground.

That doesn’t mean everything is perfect or that NBC officials should stop thinking about ways to make the World Series better.

I still don’t think it’s a good idea for the city of Wichita to own the NBC; hopefully there is a strong push this fall and winter to find local ownership. The current structure makes it difficult to know who is in charge.

For the second year in a row, there was no Alaska team in the tournament. Given the 16 championships that teams from Alaska have won in the tournament’s history, that’s a big void.

And one, because of travel costs, won’t be easy to resolve. It’s encouraging that Fairbanks Goldpanners general manager Todd Dennis is enthused about finding a way to get back to Wichita for the NBC World Series. Fairbanks’ six titles are the most of any team in the tournament’s history and Dennis that his team will once again become an NBC regular.

This year’s World Series has been a good one for the Jayhawk League, which has been relatively quiet in recent years. El Dorado and Wellington reached the semifinals and Hays made another deep run in the tournament, although Liberal, which has won five titles, was knocked out early.

The new format, which essentially involves two 16-team tournaments in back-to-back weeks, has been interesting. The concern is that over time the importance of games in the first week, during which only two of 16 teams qualify for the main draw, will lose significance.

But El Dorado, which received one of two bids into the second week of action and cashed a $5,000 check in the process, made a strong push in the second week, too.

Tournament officials have to continue to explore new frontiers to make the tournament stronger and more diverse. There are still a couple too many Kansas teams in the field and, outside of California, not enough representation from other states. The 30-team field included representatives from only 11 states and nine of the teams were from Kansas.

This is the National Baseball Congress World Series. The words “National” and “World” are in the title. But there’s still too much “Kansas.”

There have been a lot of things to like about the past couple of weeks, too. There is a more professional atmosphere around the ballpark. A larger group of volunteers has helped.

It’s still frustrating that information on players is difficult to find. More could be done to promote the top college players from each of the teams.

Fans, though, have enjoyed themselves. There have been more free tickets available through ballpark buyouts, including some during championship week when the best teams are playing.

I was surprised Wednesday night when the tournament’s final unbeaten teams, Santa Barbara and Seattle, played in the 10 p.m. game instead of the marquee 7 o’clock game.

Overall, though, NBC officials have had a good two weeks. I especially liked the parade of teams during the first night of championship week, when players held a team banner as they marched on the field. There was noticeable attention paid to the vast history of the World Series. I know the NBC has reached out to some of the well-known players from the past, hoping to entice them to return and be honored. Keep trying, guys. That would be a nice touch.

The one thing that would really help the NBC, and baseball in Wichita, is continued improvement to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Each night, L-D is introduced over the public-address system as one of the oldest ballparks in the country.

That’s a little bit of a back-handed compliment, because the place continues to deteriorate. The artificial playing surface is fine. The dugouts are fine. A lot of L-D is fine.

But a lot of it isn’t and slapping a fresh coat of paint on the place is losing its effectiveness. At some point not too far down the road a major renovation will be needed. Not a new ballpark somewhere else. A major renovation of Lawrence-Dumont, which sits on a perfect piece of land with one of the best views in Kansas.

But while the view is great, the smell isn’t. Especially after days of rain.

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium has been patched up and massaged over the years. It needs more. It’s such an important place to so many. If baseball is to prosper in Wichita, L-D has to be spruced up. It’s old, but it’s not beyond repair.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @blutz.

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