JUCO special for fans, players | PostIndependent.com

JUCO special for fans, players

Grand Junction Free Press File Photo Who's going to do the dog pile this year? New Mexico Junior College got the honor last year after defeating St. Petersburg College in the championship game of the Junior College World Series. But the Thunderbirds failed to qualify for JUCO this year, leaving the door open for 10 new teams to battle it out over the next week at Sam Suplizio Field for the national championship.

The teams have arrived in Grand Junction.Sam Suplizio Field is ready to go.The stage is set … Bring on JUCO.It’s Memorial Day weekend in the Grand Valley, and that can only mean one thing to baseball fans – time for the Junior College World Series.Fans flock to Grand Junction each year for what has become one of the valley’s biggest events. They can’t wait to get that first Sno-Cone and hear Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” for the first time.But they’re not the only ones who have this week circled on their calendar.

“Every year we get here it feels good,” said San Jacinto College North coach Tom Arrington, whose Gators make their 15th JUCO appearance. “It’s something we look at all year long. And every time we get here, it’s such a thrill, mainly for the players.”The festivities actually begin with the annual banquet Friday night with former JUCO and Major League pitcher Tippy Martinez as the guest speaker.But the real fun starts Saturday morning when San Jac plays another team from Texas, Temple College, at 9 a.m.San Jacinto brings a rich history to Grand Junction. The Gators are making their eighth appearance in the past 10 years, having lost in the Southern District final to Texarkana last year. San Jac has won five national championships, the last coming in 2000.Temple, on the other hand, makes its first appearance. The Leopards lost in the Southwestern District final to eventual JUCO champion New Mexico Junior College last year.While fans will be excited that JUCO will start off with a bang, there’s something that bothers Arrington.”I just value Texas kids and for us to be matched up with the other Texas team, that means at the end of the first game of the World Series this year, one of the Texas teams is going to be in the loser’s bracket.”The Gators have proven they’re not done once they’re bounced down to the loser’s bracket, having battled back to finish third in 2004.

They’ve also proven they can win the whole darn thing.Maybe that’s why they have as many fans in Grand Junction as they do at some games in Texas.”We’ll show up and there will be 100 people wearing San Jac hats,” Arrington said. “Oh, but there’s the Gator Haters, too.”All Texas allegiance aside, count the Temple Leopards as Gator Haters right now, too. Might as well add Broward Community College, Butler Community College, Wallace State Community College, Yavapai College, Connors State College, Walters State Community College, Potomac State College and South Suburban Community College to that list.Because, although teams have made getting to Grand Junction a year-long goal, none of them are happy just to be here.

Everyone wants to be involved in the dog pile near the pitchers mound that only one team gets to enjoy.And there will be a new team piling on each other this year since last year’s champion, New Mexico Junior College, didn’t make the return trip.True, San Jac’s history alone makes the Gators one of the favorites any year they make the trip.Just don’t tell that to Arrington.”Any one team in this tournament can be the team,” he said. “You look at rankings and it’s misleading when it comes to junior college. Last year we were ranked No. 1 for most of the season and this year we weren’t ranked.”Well, coach, what’s it take to win it?”It’s a culmination of things,” Arrington said. “We strive to eliminate any uncertainties. It has a lot to do with scouting each and every game and trying to pick up things: You want to take away their strengths and rely on what strengths you do have.”And also, you’ve got to be hot.”See the scoreboard on Page 18 for the JUCO World Series schedule.

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