The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 17, 2013

Premier tourney begins today

By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer

— In 50 years of his Hall of Fame coaching career, Gary Ward came to detest just three things.

“I didn’t like airports, rental cars and hotels,” he said. “I calculated it a few years ago and I think I’ve spent seven years of my life in a hotel. It begins to all look the same. When you wake up in the morning you have to remember if you’re in Philadelphia or Oxnard.”

But Ward, who once led Oklahoma State to 16 straight Big 8 titles, said he feels indebted to the game of baseball and believes in his message enough that he still hits the road occasionally, leaving his Stillwater, Okla., home to speak to baseball people.

On Tuesday night he was at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center to serve as the keynote speaker at the kickoff dinner to the Premier Baseball World Series, a 50-team tournament hosted by Joplin and surrounding communities.

“This is amateur baseball,” he said. “Hopefully in the brief time you have to speak to these young people, you’re able to pass along a lifetime of experience about some very basic things.

“In 10 or 15 minutes, you want them to understand how lucky they are, how genetically blessed they are. You want to tell them to hug their mom and dad and really appreciate the opportunity they’re providing for them and that this is a special time in their life.”

Ward certainly has a leg to stand on when it comes to baseball.

He compiled a 1,022-361-1 record as a head coach. He led Oklahoma State from 1978 until 1996, taking the Cowboys to 17 Big 8 titles, 17 NCAA Regional apperances and 10 trips to the College World Series. He has been inducted to the College Baseball Hall of Fame, the College Baseball Foundation Hall of Fame and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I have a forum from which to talk that has some validity,” he said. “I damn sure feel like I have a responsibility to the game to try to use it as best I can to try and pass that legacy on.”

Ward spoke to members of the 50 teams who will begin play today in the five-day tournament that will take place at 10 stadiums in three states. The first game begins at 9:30 a.m. today, and the championship is slated for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s hard to get away from home for more than a day or two, but I wanted to come do this,” said Ward, who is caring for his ill wife, Catherine. “I don’t want these kids to say at 15 or 16 or 17 ‘What I am now is what I’m going to be.’ They’re on the first steps on the ladder to being great at something. You ain’t nothing until you decided what you are. Failure is not final and it’s not fatal. It’s just fertilizer.”

Notes: Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. game between Houston Kyle Chapman and the Midwest Nationals will be Throwback Night as part of the 100th anniversary of Joe Becker Stadium.  Chapman will wear replica Joplin Miners shirts while the Nationals will wear replica Baxter Springs Whiz Kids Shirts. Mickey Mantle played for both the Miners and Whiz Kids. ... The tournament brings to Joplin 27 teams from Texas, eight from Missouri, three from New York, two each from Indiana and Arkansas and one each from Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. ... All games will be scored on iPads with the Gamechanger program. Games will be available for live updates online at premierbaseball.net.