NBC Baseball

NBC World Series: In with the new

It's Casey Walkup's turn to see how the National Baseball Congress World Series runs outside the foul lines.

He understands the view changes dramatically from player and coach now that he is operations manager for the 32-team baseball tournament. He will no longer be the guy griping about playing at 3 a.m. with a knucklehead umpire and an elimination game scheduled later that day. Instead, he will be the guy trying to explain why a game is scheduled at 3 a.m., that the umpires aren't trying to cheat anybody and why your team needs to be back in 16 hours to play again.

"You kind of realize how selfish you were," Walkup said. "You put your foot in your mouth with a lot of things you said over the years, because you realize a lot of those things you said are not necessarily how it works on this side of the field."

Walkup's new view is from his office in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, where the job of running the 76-year old NBC is undergoing a gradual transition. Walkup, 32, moved to the NBC in January from his job as sports reporter at KSNW. A graduate of Valley Center, he played baseball at Wichita State and played and coached in the NBC for several teams.

He will learn from tournament director Jerry Taylor, who has managed the brackets and more for most of this decade. Taylor, 60, moved to part-time after working in various NBC duties since 1999 and wants to enjoy a certain amount of retirement.

"We wanted to find someone who had knowledge of the NBC," Taylor said. "We felt like he would be able to reach some folks we had not been able to get in touch with."

While Taylor is leading Walkup through the next 15 days, Walkup didn't waste time making changes and updates. Wichita company BaseballSavings.com is on board as the NBC's first baseball-related title sponsor. The championship game is back on TV (Kansas 22), for the first time since 2005. He updated the tournament's Internet presence with live statistics for all games and a Facebook page. He also works for the Wichita Wingnuts, the independent baseball organization that operates the NBC for its owner, the City of Wichita.

"Casey — he loves it, he's passionate about it," general manager Josh Robertson said. "You can see he's stored away — and I was the same way — ideas that he's had from a player and coach perspective."

That background is essential for a tournament that demands its organizer survive on little sleep, concession-stand food and volunteer help. Walkup grew up watching famous NBC names such as the Midlothian (Ill.) White Sox. He admired the all-red uniforms of the Santa Maria (Calif.) Indians and followed Wichita State stars such as Darren Dreifort and Jaime Bluma on Alaska teams. Walkup played in 12 NBC World Series. He won the Manager of the Year award in 2005 after coaching the Park City Cowboys to a tie for seventh place.

Working the NBC is a job a person must love.

"You're not going to get rich," Robertson said. "You're going to work extremely long hours. Your social life doesn't begin until it snows."

Change doesn't come easily to a 76-year-old institution. Owners and coaches have his cell number, and he is working to earn their trust as Taylor's successor. He is learning the art of scheduling, always with an eye toward saving hotel and food money for teams who travel long distances. Shortening the tournament is often discussed, but not at the expense of tradition and atmosphere.

The NBC was late on payments to teams in 2008 and 2009, a problem Walkup most recently blames on a change in ownership of the Wingnuts. In January, he went to a baseball convention and explained the situation to owners.

"All that's behind us," he said. "We're more than stable financially. I think everybody is happy with the direction we're going."

Robertson, Taylor and Walkup are all mindful of the direction that NBC founder Hap Dumont started 76 years ago. The importance of tradition and history are constant themes around the office.

"For 32 years now, this tournament has been a part of my life," Walkup said. "It's been a family tradition for many families around the area, and around the country. I remember coming to these games with my grandpa and my dad. That's why this tournament has been around so long."