The Jayhawk League — a summer college baseball organization — is taking on a bit of a different look this summer.
The Haysville Aviators — who finished fifth in last year’s National Baseball Congress World Series — and the Bethany (Okla.) Bulls were invited to join the Jayhawk League in 2015. The additions bring the league to eight members, which will push the league to return to the two-division format it did away with in 1995.
“So many of these surrounding leagues have more members in them. The Jayhawk League has the blue bloods, the teams that have been around for a long time, and things haven’t really changed in a while,” Liberal recruiting coordinator Roy Allen said. “Having the opportunity to add two more quality teams… it gives us a little more clout with the NBC, which is, in the end, what we’re all looking for.”
The North Division houses the Liberal BeeJays, Dodge City A’s, Hays Larks, and El Dorado Broncos, while the South will have Bethany, Haysville, the Derby Twins and Wellington Heat. Each of the eight will play 40 games — a normal workload for the league — but only 24 of those games will be played intra-division, with a home and away series. The other 16 games will be played across divisions, with only one series between each team.
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The final change for the league was naming Phil Stephenson, who manages the Dodge City A’s, the commissioner. Stephenson is a member of both the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame as a former Wichita State All-American.
“I love him to death,” Wellington Heat coach Rick Twyman said. “He’s been around my family and was friends with my family for a long, long time… He’s one of my favorite guys.”
Twins waiting on their new coach – While most Jayhawk League teams are still waiting for the remainder of their players to finish the spring semester, the Derby Twins are in bit more of a peculiar situation. The Twins are still waiting on coach Rickey Noland to arrive in Kansas.
Noland is a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Ocean Springs High in Mississippi, and will finish up there this week. Noland will be in his first season as coach for the Twins, but spent two seasons with the club as a catcher when it first began.
“He’s a good coach. Just the fact that he’s played for us, it’s only added to it,” Twins general manger Jeff Wells said. “He wants to come back, he loves Derby. He wants to give something back to the community.”
In the meantime, former Derby High coach Bill Shaw has filled in to help out with the team. He’s expected to stick around during homestands throughout the season.
Liberal in a position to bounce back – For an annual contender, last year’s Liberal BeeJays campaign didn’t quite hit the mark. The five-time NBC World Series champs finished second-to-last in the Jayhawk League last year, and made some moves in the offseason to assure it won’t happen again.
The team officially brought on Allen, a sports information director at Seward Community College, to be the team’s recruiting coordinator. Allen was involved with the team for six years. General manager Mike Carlile brought Allen on because of his strong connections in the baseball world at “all different levels.”
“We just want to get better players in here,” Allen said. “Our community invests so much into the BeeJays organization, and the fan support is so much that they deserve better than a team that doesn’t make the NBC tournament, to be quite honest.”
The BeeJays started strong with a sweep of the Bethany Bulls in the first week of the season. But the sweep doesn’t necessarily dictate the prowess of the BeeJays, since both teams are still adding players as they finish up school.
“We fared well against them, and it’ll probably take (Bethany) a while to get used to the league just because the league is so competitive,” Allen said. “But we played really, really good. And we have the majority of our starting lineup already here, so that contributed to it.”