NBC Baseball

Bob Lutz: Some ways to re-energize the NBC

The National Baseball Congress World Series isn’t going anywhere.

It’s not going to fold because of a lack of interest. It’s not going to go bankrupt because of a lack of money. It’s not going to die on the vine because Wichitans have neglected providing nourishment.

The NBC is 78 years old and, whether you like it or not, we’re stuck with it.

The choices are simple: Work to correct the problems with the tournament or adopt a status-quo policy which has led to much of the current discontent.

Option 2 really isn’t an option. The only way to move forward with the NBC is to search for new ways, new ideas, to assure viability in coming decades. We’re going to get to the 100-year anniversary, I promise. I just hope I’m around to enjoy the festivities.

Allowing that there is still a lot that is right with the NBC, here are a few ideas for how to fix what is broken and implement what hasn’t yet been implemented. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

One voice – Casey Walkup is the NBC tournament director. It’s a big job and while Walkup needs all the help he can get, he needs to be out in front of every NBC decision, privately and publicly.

Walkup also works for the Wichita Wingnuts, who have a contractual agreement with the city to operate the NBC. But if Walkup isn’t devoting 95 percent of his time and energy to the NBC, there is a flaw in the organizational flow chart.

Reach out to Alaska – The Anchorage Glacier Pilots aren’t in this year’s World Series. Neither are the Fairbanks Goldpanners or any other team from Alaska. That state’s heritage in the World Series exceeds all others except for perhaps Kansas.

An NBC without an Alaska team or two just isn’t an NBC. The NBC needs to find out what’s going on in the Alaska League, a six-team organization that has long been one of the top collegiate summer baseball leagues. Walkup should visit Alaska soon to answer questions and seek solutions that will assure Alaska keeps its NBC ties.

Get the teams paid – Over the past couple of years, there have been delays — sometimes long delays — in awarding prize money to teams. That can’t happen and it has done more to jeopardize the short-term health of the tournament than any other issue. If the NBC wants teams to steadfastly show their support, then cut them a check by no later than Oct. 1. If not, people start talking and they’re not whispering sweet nothings.

Too much Kansas — There were 11 Kansas teams in this year’s 32-team field. That’s way too many. Yes, it’s more and more expensive for out-of-state teams to come to Wichita. But there has to be a way to cut some of those costs and perhaps even increase the amount of prize money. The World Series is becoming more of a Midwest regional.

Give Mike Dean a raise – The one thing you can depend on the NBC to deliver is a top notch statistical report for every tournament. Dean, the official scorer, is in his 29th season. He makes the trip to Wichita every summer from Grand Rapids, Mich., and he hasn’t lost any zip off his fastball.

Don’t close in – There wasn’t a team east of Crestwood, Ill., in this year’s tournament. This used to be a showcase for teams from all directions. The NBC has lost some of its territory over the years, but it’s time to put up a fight to get some of it back.

Network with college baseball – There are more choices than ever for college coaches who are looking for places to send their players for the summer. The Cape Cod League, Texas Collegiate League and Northwoods League have all taken a chunk of prestige away from the NBC. That’s why it’s important to develop relationships with those college coaches and to play up the NBC’s rich history and heritage, which will never be matched. I’ve been told time after time that none of those other leagues is interested in forming a partnership with the NBC. I believe that, but it doesn’t mean the NBC should stop trying. How good would it be for the Cape Cod, Texas Collegiate and Northwoods to be represented here every summer?

What’s the ownership situation? – I don’t understand why the city still owns the NBC. And I don’t understand the working agreement it has with the Wingnuts. As hard as the Wingnuts people work on this tournament — and they’re often at the ballpark for double shifts — their first priority is the Wingnuts. The NBC has to be a priority. Has to be.

Professionalism – This mostly amounts to the small stuff, like keeping the correct score and count on the scoreboard. Like making sure everyone in a team’s dugout is in uniform and that two players per position aren’t taking pre-game infield. On the publicity front, advertising has dwindled to almost nothing, it seems. Perhaps there could be a Daily NBC Report for the media with news, notes and statistics. Dean and his people would be all over that.

The home front – The Jayhawk League once was a premier summer league. It’s not anymore and it’s in the NBC’s backyard. It’s important to the NBC World Series for the Jayhawk, which had El Dorado and Hays playing in Friday night’s semifinals, to be strong.

Fight complacency – It’s a long, grueling tournament and it’s been around for 78 years. So it’s a challenge to keep the NBC fresh. But the move to retire Satchel Paige’s No. 17 on Thursday night was a good one. Bring back an NBC Hall of Famer every year for such a ceremony. The history of the tournament is the NBC’s best friend. And it alone can do wonders for the tournament’s future.

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