One thing about the trek from San Luis Obispo to Wichita, Kan., for the National Baseball Congress World Series: Not all of the players can make it.
Each year has its own set of circumstances, but when the San Luis Obispo Blues secure an invitation as they did this summer and last year, they hardly travel as a team.
Some players fly. Other make the roughly 24-hour drive. Some of the summer collegiate baseball players go back to their respective schools, whether it be with injuries or separate commitments.
And with his World Series Championship Week opener looming Saturday, Blues manager Chal Fanning still has a couple of holes to fill.
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“We’re still on the phone trying to find a guy or two,” Fanning said by phone from Wichita. “We got really hit with injuries on the mound and lost quite a few people. A lot of guys who pitched for the Blues aren’t here. There’s some extra faces that are going to be on that roster.”
The lineup from a Blues team that finished 38-19 overall and placed fourth after the California Collegiate League postseason series will largely remain intact, Fanning said.
But the bullpen will include players like Max Duvall. A former collegiate first baseman for Hawaii, the San Luis Obispo High and Cuesta College product is now aiming to be signed to a professional team as a pitcher.
Duvall pitched in just four games for the Blues during the regular season, allowing one run, but he could figure much bigger if the Blues make an extended run at the World Series.
“There’s always been something about him that people said he should pitch,” said Fanning, who also coached Duvall as an assistant at Cuesta. “Now’s the time. We’re going to see what can be done.”
The National Baseball Congress is a federation of 15 amateur and semi-pro baseball leagues around the country from Alaska and California to Texas and Illinois.
The Santa Barbara Foresters, the Blues’ CCL rivals, are back-to-back defending champions of the NBC World Series and also won the event in 2006 and 2008.
The Blues won their opener in Wichita last season before losing the next two to fall out of the tournament.
In their first game of the double-elimination bracket this year, the Blues will play the Hutchinson (Kan.) Monarchs on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. PDT.
The Monarchs were intended to play in the forerunner to Championship Week, a bracket of 16 teams referred to as “The First Week” but were moved into the championship bracket when another team pulled out.
The last two survivors of the first week bracket gain entry to Championship Week, a 16-team bracket to determine the overall NBC champion.
The Blues offense will be led by Michael Pritchard, Aaron Attaway and Daniel Garner. Pritchard leads the team with a .375 average, 60 hits, 37 runs and 28 walks and ranks second with 12 doubles and 17 stolen bases.
Attaway is hitting .343, and Garner has a team-leading 34 RBI.
Closer Drake Owenby is one Blues pitcher that did make the trip. Owenby saved eight games for the Blues and sports a 1.07 ERA and 0.99 WHIP ratio while striking out 49 batters in 25 1⁄3 innings.
Corey Ray, (4-1, 3.02 ERA) is slated to start the first game, and Brett Haringa (2-0, 0.92 ERA), Tyler King (2-0, 3.38 ERA) and Blake Whitter also made the trip. Grayson Long (2-3, 1.88 ERA) is with the team but may be held out with injury, Fanning said.
“It’s a really good group of guys,” Fanning said.
“The one unique unknown about summer baseball is how guys bond and come together and how guys play as a team. I think this is one of the stronger teams that has been able to do that.
“The early vibe here in Wichita is the guys are excited to see each other. That part I like as a coach. You sure don’t want it to be the opposite where you’re pulling teeth to get guys to play together.”