By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
With the Connie Mack state tournament scheduled to begin Thursday at David Allen Memorial Ballpark, American Amateur Baseball Congress of Oklahoma commissioner Shannon Enfield is considering options to further expand the still-growing league.
If all goes according to plan, the tournament, a nine-team bracket that includes six members of the Les Beckham League and three provisional teams that are ineligible for the regional tournament, but can win the state title, will become a 16-team field without provisional members in 2014.
The move would mean more structure for Connie Mack regular season play and what Enfield hopes would be a more robust postseason and a return to prominence for summer baseball in Oklahoma.
Bucking a national trend of declining participation in summer baseball at all levels, AABCOK has managed to grow in Oklahoma.
Connie Mack had zero teams in the state when the organization started summer baseball in 2011. In 2013, 28 clubs — 12 in Connie Mack and 16 in the AABCOK’s 14-under Sandy Koufax League — flew under the AABCOK banner, a point of pride for Enfield, but more importantly, a point for selling, he hopes.
“There’s maybe 25 or 30 teams that would be, perhaps, interested,” said Enfield, who previously coached high school baseball for 26 years in Oklahoma and Texas. “We don’t need 50 teams. There’s not 50 teams. We just want to have 16.”
Among those teams, Enfield said, were several traveling, or showcase teams that typically play only tournaments, but would be required — and willing — to participate in a minimum number of league games. Currently, AABC requires at least four league contests for membership, but Enfield likely would require more for clubs in either the Les Beckham League, which includes the Enid Majors and Enid Minors, or what would figure to be a second league if 16 teams join Connie Mack.
A 16-team Connie Mack class with two eight-team leagues would allow a more stable format for an organization that took a step towards it with the formation of the Les Beckham League in 2013, but could use more. A six-week league scheduling period led to an imbalance in the number of league games, partially due to weather-related cancellations and to fulfill previous tournament obligations for league members.
The Enid Majors finished second in Les Beckham play after going 12-3. The Enid Minors and Southwest Shockers’ Gray team played a league-high 16 games against Les Beckham foes, and regular season champion Oklahoma City Sandlot played only 13.
Three teams — the Woodward Travelers, Southmoore Sabercats and Woodward Minors — will play as provisional teams in the 2013 state tournament, meaning they can win the state tournament, but not advance to the regional round July 24-28 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Last season, the Woodward Travelers won the tournament, sending runner-up OKC Sandlot to regionals.
In the expanded league, Enfield hopes to implement a more condensed league scheduling period, still requiring teams to play every league team at least twice a season, but having teams schedule a league-heavy slate over a 15-day period when tournament obligations are most scarce. In the new format, no provisional teams would be allowed in the state bracket.
“Next year, every competitor in the state tournament will be competing for that (regional) berth,” said Enfield, who noted provisional teams were added only to allow teams to “sample” summer as a Connie Mack team in the hopes of luring them as full-time members.
The recruiting process itself comes with pitfalls.
Though American Legion 19-under membership dropped to seven teams in 2013, with Enfield targeting some for Connie Mack play, some apparently were hesitant to make the jump.
“Originally, the intent was we were going to try to get the all American Legion clubs and the Connie Mack teams together,” he said. “We’re going to try and revisit that for next season.”
One American Legion team, the Lawton Colonels, committed to play a Les Beckham league schedule, but folded before the season started.
The move can be a tough sell for teams that have been decades-long members of American Legion baseball, and Enfield said not every community was receptive to joining Connie Mack.
“I just think we’re closer together in theory than what we lead on here on Oklahoma,” he said. “There’s feelings on both sides that we’re opposing each other. I keep telling people that we need to stick together … I’d like to think that eventually we’d be able to find some common ground, because we’re closer together than some of these teams that don’t even have age limits.”
Enid, a 12-time American Legion state champion and 2005 World Series champion, left the organization after the 2009 season as teams dwindled and Enid wanted to recruit players from outside the area specified by American Legion.
“This was a decision made three years ago for what best benefited the individuals, the players,” Enid Majors coach Chris Jensen said. “It think it’s been positive.”
The Enid Majors (38-15 overall, 12-3 league) are the second seed in the Connie Mack state tournament, opening in the first round against the Cleveland County Boomers (5-20, 4-9) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. The Minors (20-28, 8-8) play the defending champion Woodward Travelers (30-22) at 2:30 p.m on Thursday.
Top-seeded OKC Sandlot (30-8, 11-2) has a first-round bye, provisional teams Southmoore (24-6) and Woodward Minors (35-32) play at noon, and the Oklahoma City Drillers (16-30, 5-7) face the Southwest Shockers (30-20, 6-9) at 5 p.m.