REGGIE HAYES: World Series win just part of Fort Wayne 35-and-old baseball team’s story
There are 22 players on the Fort Wayne Stars Academy baseball team that won the 35-and-older Roy Hobbs World Series last week, so there are a couple dozen stories worth telling.
It’s Eric Smith’s story that gets team organizer Randy Moss choked up.
Smith, 32, is a husband, a father of two and a heck of a shortstop and hitter, and he’s about to change his life dramatically.
Smith has enlisted in the U.S. Army with long-term leadership goals that’ll start with infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., the day after Christmas. A former star athlete at Bishop Luers High School and Anderson University, Smith owns his own marketing company but feels the call to devote the rest of his life to serving his country.
Last week’s Roy Hobbs World Series in Fort Myers, Fla., that ended with a championship celebration was at least a temporary farewell to baseball.
“That was the last time he’s going to play baseball for Lord knows how long,” Moss said. “He got every ground ball, hit .607 for the week. He was on fire. He was just so fun to watch. He’s a great kid. His wife and his newborn kid were there, his best friend playing third base. You couldn’t have written it better.”
Moss, 53, calls Smith a “kid” because of their age difference. Although the tournament is 35-and-older, each team is allowed some players who aren’t quite 35.
Clearly, age is a state of mind for these players, and especially for Smith, since he’s headed for the military now instead of during his early years out of high school or college.
“It’s always been a private thing and I haven’t told a lot of people,” Smith said. “There are things I’ve wanted to do to help our country. I have a conviction about America and democracy and our safety. …I see a purpose there for me.”
Smith said he has the blessing of his wife, Katelyn, who gave birth to their first son, Hudson, on Oct. 5. Smith also has a 7-year-old son, Quinn. His family will join him after he completes training. His plan is to eventually enter the U.S. Army Rangers program.
Smith’s last baseball hurrah, for now, was a memorable one. He was the team’s co-MVP with pitcher Todd Thorn, and had a once-in-a-lifetime semifinal game where he went 6-for-6 with a grand slam and six RBIs. He also played alongside his best friend, Garrett Weijak, a pitcher who stepped in at third base and played terrific.
“Garrett hadn’t touched any position but the mound for 12 years and he’s making plays where I’m like: That should be on (ESPN) SportsCenter,” Smith said.
It was that kind of special week for all the players.
Moss has put together teams for the last 11 years for the Roy Hobbs World Series and has come close, but hadn’t won it. An earlier incarnation of Moss’ team won the Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series in 2006. Moss’ younger brother Rodney, 47, can’t play because of a bad hamstring, but he coached the team from third base this time. Chris Moore was a major force in the financing end, Randy Moss said.
The team included 10 players from Fort Wayne and players from Michigan, Seattle, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. The games were played at various locales with the championship game taking place at Jet Blue Park, where the Boston Red Sox play during spring training. The Red Sox, incidentally, are Smith’s favorite team.
“It was just amazing being with all those teammates down there,” Rodney Moss said. “For sure, it was the most special team I’ve ever been on.”
The players from Fort Wayne were the Moss brothers, Smith, Moore, Weijak, Tommy Gaskill, Tim Gaskill, Kris Bloom, Dean Shepherd and Rod Metzler.
“We play at this day and this age because of the guys in the dugout,” Randy Moss said. “That’s what’s important. We could not be blessed with a better group of guys.”
Many players will be back next year, no doubt. Smith probably won’t be available, depending on where he is in his military career a year from now. But the others won’t soon forget his grand finale.
“I’ve only known Eric for two or three years but it’s like we’ve been teammates for 25 years,” Rodney Moss said. “I think this will always be special for him. He’ll take these memories with him, like we all will.”
Randy Moss likes to talk about how Smith played every play and approached every at-bat like it was his last. That approach, Smith said, was taught to him as a baseball player by former Bishop Luers coach Gary Rogers. It has stayed with him since.
That same tenacity is what he plans to take to the next phase of his life. He could stay in the corporate world, he said, but duty calls.
Smith plans to cherish the memories of one final baseball run as he moves ahead with his career plans.
“That week was so much fun, to watch all the guys enjoy the experience, and for me to play so well,” Smith said. “If I could say anything else, it would be to thank everybody for the phenomenal week.”
The Fort Wayne Stars Academy team scored 99 runs in eight games. The players hit a combined .350 in the wood-bat tournament. But their Roy Hobbs World Series run left an impact on the team’s players far beyond the statistics.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.