Geography lessons via the National Baseball Congress World Series reveal a limited world view. Anything east of the Mississippi River barely matters and east of the Appalachians barely exists.
The tournament is dominated by teams from Alaska, with 16 titles and 31 championship-game appearances to their credit. And Kansas, with 16 and 30. California, Oregon and Arizona claim three of the past four champions.
"Nonexistent," said Vienna (Va.) Senators manager Chris Burr, who would like very much to change that map.
The Senators will make their fourth appearance in the tournament, which begins today at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and ends with a championship game Aug. 15. It is the 74th NBC, an event crowning as many champions from Chinese Taipei (2003) as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida and Virginia (Fort Meyer, Va., 1952).
The Senators would be happy to become an Eastern time zone ambassador for the NBC. Burr said their recent trips sparked conversations with teams about making Wichita the August destination. He loves the atmosphere of Baseball 'Round the Clock and savors the chance to see teams from around the nation.
"It's unlike any other event anywhere," he said. "That alone keeps you coming back."
The Senators went 3-2 last summer in Wichita, their best showing since they decided to tackle the NBC in 2004. They return this summer with perhaps their best team. They started 22-1 and ascended to No. 1 in a summer ranking by a scouting Web site.
"We've got a two-week reservation, and we're going to see what happens," Burr said. "We've got a group of guys that can be dynamic and beat people in a lot of different ways."
The NBC's history contains few teams from the East because of distance and money, two intertwined factors. NBC tournament director of operations Jerry Taylor talks regularly with the Cape Cod League and others in the East and South about qualifying for the NBC. He would love to organize a three-game playoff between the NBC and Cape champions.
"Just to compare and see," he said. "Where we're really looking to (add leagues) is East."
East Coast summer leagues, Taylor said, are largely operated for profit and don't want to cut into ticket sales to come to Wichita in August.
"They're almost like an independent league," he said. "They can't afford to come out here and lose those home dates."
The Senators, on the other hand, targeted the NBC after dominating lower-level tournaments with age limits. It's an organization used to success, and once coached by J.J. Picollo, assistant general manager for the Kansas City Royals.
"We were looking for a new venture," said Burr, whose coaching staff includes former Wichita State third baseman Dan Raley. "We obviously stepped up to a different animal."
The Senators (38-10) bring the deep pitching staff needed to navigate the NBC. Eric Cantrell, from George Washington, leads the team with 49 2/3 innings and has a 2.17 ERA. Lefty Kyle Hald, with a 6-0 record and a 3.05 ERA, leads the team with 64 strikeouts. Georgia's Ryan Woolley is a recent addition and has 15 strikeouts and one walk in 14 2/3 innings.
Outfielders David Harris (11 home runs, 37 RBIs) and Matt Goulas (eight homers, 41 RBIs) supply the power. Shortstop Seth Henry, also from Tulane, is hitting .500 with six homers and six doubles in 20 games. WSU's Kevin Hall is hitting .329 after a slow start while recovering from a strained ligament in his left index finger.
"We've got a bunch of scrappers and battlers," Hall said. "We get on base, then we've got a couple guys with pop."
Griffin is making his third trip to the NBC. Burr relies on his experience to explain the importance and nuances of the tournament. He has been through the travel, the waiting and the wacky schedules that are part of the package.
"You eat, sleep and play baseball," Griffin said. "That's an ideal week for me."
He will love it more if the Senators can take the title back east on Aug. 15.
"There seems to be a moxie with this team," he said. "They seem like they know what they want and they're hungry for it. They want to play to win and they want to win."Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or firstname.lastname@example.org