A few years before Bryce Harper was hammering home runs at big league ballparks, the slugger had dreams of bashing baseballs in western Colorado.
Getting to Grand Junction means you’ve made it to the JUCO World Series. And for every junior college player, that has been the dream destination since 1959, with Suplizio Field and its majestic mountain backdrop serving as host.
“When I look back, I can say one of my favorite times I ever had on the baseball field and one of the greatest years of my life was playing JUCO,” Harper says of playing in 2010 for the College of Southern Nevada in the upcoming book, “JUCO’s Journey.”
“And the JUCO World Series,” he added, “was icing on the cake.”
Kirby Puckett played there in 1982 with Triton College, years before he won two World Series with the Minnesota Twins on his way to the Hall of Fame. Long before his bloody sock became the stuff of Red Sox legend, Curt Schilling took the mound for Yavapai College in 1986.
The likes of Gary Gentry, Kurt Bevacqua, Jim Leyritz, Eric Gagne, Travis Hafner, Cliff Lee, John Lackey, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Belt are also on the list of more than 120 future major leaguers who have played on junior college baseball’s biggest stage.
Similar to its NCAA Division I counterpart in Omaha, Nebraska, the JUCO World Series is fully embraced by Grand Junction, a city of about 60,000 located nearly 250 miles west-southwest of Denver. The weeklong celebration of baseball has been in the leadoff spot for a few generations of residents, fans, players and coaches alike.
“The quest to get to Grand Junction is the lifeblood of junior college baseball,” former San Jacinto College-North (Texas) coach and current Rice skipper Wayne Graham said in “JUCO’s Journey,” written by Patti Arnold with Richard Rosenblatt.
This year’s 10-team field begins play Saturday in the double-elimination tournament and includes five-time champion San Jacinto, last year’s runner-up which holds the tournament record for titles and is in the JUCO World Series for the 22nd time; two-time winner Cowley College (Kansas); first-time participants Dyersburg State (Tennessee), Florence-Darlington Tech (South Carolina) — which launched a GoFundMe page to help pay for travel expenses — and Wallace-Dothan (Alabama), whose coach is former big league catcher Mackey Sasser; Chipola (Florida); McLennan (Texas); Wabash Valley (Illinois); Crowder (Missouri); and Southern Nevada, making its first appearance since Harper’s squad.
“Congrats and good luck to the CSN Coyotes baseball team on getting back to Grand Junction!” Harper wrote on Twitter earlier this week. “Get you a title boys???? #Yotes #JCWS.”
Here are a few things to know about the JUCO World Series, past and present:
JOURNEY TO JUNCTION: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first world series, which was played in Miami, Oklahoma, with Cameron State College (Oklahoma) defeating Northeastern Oklahoma A&M 9-6. After rain kept attendance low, the NJCAA Division I tournament moved to Grand Junction on a trial run for one year — with the caveat that Mesa College, the local team, automatically qualify to draw fans. Mesa College, now Division II Colorado Mesa University, never won, but the tournament was so well-received one year turned into three. Several renewals later, a 25-year contract was signed to keep the JUCO World Series there through the 2035 season.
HOW TO GET THERE?: Teams qualify for the JUCO World Series by advancing from regional tournaments and district championships. There are 10 districts geographically spread around the country. Teams from Texas have won it 20 times, while Arizona-based teams are second with 13. One team from New York has won the title: Nassau Community College in 1966.
HARPER’S HEAVE: The talented slugger was just 17 when he helped lead Southern Nevada to the series. The Washington Nationals outfielder was a catcher back then and he even caught his brother, Bryan, in a win. Harper, who hit .462 with two homers and nine RBIs in the series, was ejected in the Coyotes’ fourth game for arguing a called third strike with an umpire. He was suspended two games and Southern Nevada was eliminated with a loss in its next game. Harper had to watch his team’s season end on a computer from his hotel room. It wasn’t all bad news for him, though; he was the No. 1 pick in the draft a few weeks later.
TRITON’S TITANS: Puckett had an incredible performance in 1982, going 11 for 16 for a .688 batting average that is tied with three others for the JUCO World Series record . He wasn’t the only notable player on that Triton team, though, with future All-Star Lance Johnson and second-round draft pick Larry Jackson roaming the Trojans’ outfield.
FRANKLY FANTASTIC: Howard College (Texas) won the 1991 championship behind Frank Rodriguez, a shortstop and right-handed pitcher who won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s top player that year. He hit .333 in Grand Junction and struck out 17 in the title-game win over Manatee (Florida).
KING GEORGE: Pima College (Arizona) infielder George Arias holds the record with three grand slams in 1992, including two in a 17-5 win over Wallace State College (Alabama). He drove in 17 runs in that series, one off the all-time mark set by Greg Geren of Cleveland State in 1980.
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.’s Mideast envoy warned on Friday that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will face a “humanitarian crisis” if their already meager electricity supply is cut further as a result of political fights.
Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement that governs Gaza “all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza’s residents,” Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the region, told the U.N. Security Council.
He spoke from Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority announced Thursday that it would no longer pay Israel for Gaza’s electricity, and Israel said it would reduce Gaza’s power supply, which is already down to about four hours a day. No date was set.
“The U.N. has warned that without addressing the structural problems of Gaza’s electricity supply we would face a humanitarian crisis,” Mladenov said.
“How long do you think they can survive if this is further reduced to two hours of electricity per day?” he added. “Who will pay the price of the ensuing violence and escalation?”
Electricity-driven drinking water is available for a few hours every two to four days, the envoy said. Hospitals are barely functioning without power, postponing surgeries and reducing cleaning and sterilization. And for lack of irrigation, food prices are soaring.
In addition, partly operational treatment plants channel the equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools of raw sewage into the Mediterranean every day.
The Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas quarreled with rival Hamas over fuel taxes last month, after which a power plant in Gaza relied on for nearly one-third of the territory’s electricity stopped working.
Mladenov said the U.N. is offering emergency help to the area with fuel for generators, water, medical needs and sanitation, but such reserves will run out in weeks.
“I am today warning the Security Council that unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiraling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” the envoy said.
The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for the past decade, amid violence that has taken thousands of lives in what Mladenov called “a political tug-of-war” between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Islamic militant group.
The schism between the Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized control of Gaza in 2007, has left Palestinians deeply divided. Some observers say the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to pay for Israeli energy was one way to try to win back some control of Gaza.
“In Gaza we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open,” Mladenov said Friday.
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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.
In a ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk said Malvo is entitled to new sentencing hearings after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
Malvo was 17 when he was arrested in 2002 for a series of shootings that killed 10 people and wounded three in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, causing widespread fear throughout the region.
His accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, was executed.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh, who helped prosecute Malvo, said the Virginia attorney general can appeal Jackson’s ruling. If not, he said he would pursue another life sentence.
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A federal judge has tossed out 2 life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo and ordered new sentencing hearings
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A federal judge has tossed out 2 life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo and ordered new sentencing hearings.
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TAORMINA, Italy (AP) — The alpha-male handshake. The deadpan reaction from NATO leaders. The presidential push to the front of the pack.
Even if Donald Trump hasn’t done a lot of public speaking during his big trip abroad, the body language of the president and those around him has spoken volumes.
Day after day, with no presidential press conferences on the schedule, Trump watchers have instead parsed the president’s movements, and taken away messages that are at times painfully obvious, at times puzzling.
Put it all together, though, and the sense emerges of a president aggressively, if somewhat awkwardly, trying to assert himself on the world stage — with mixed success depending on his audience.
“Throughout the trip he looked uncomfortable and isolated, others looked surprised or distant,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton wrote in an email. “The looks capture how much of the international community is dealing with the unorthodox president who has done little to show he cares about the role of the U.S. overseas.”
There was certainly any number of routine and friendly interactions between Trump and world leaders.
But there was no mistaking the cool reception of NATO leaders who stood by with stone faces on Thursday as Trump lectured U.S. allies about the need to spend more on defense. No, heads were not bobbing as Trump intoned that he had been “very, very direct” with members of the NATO alliance in saying at they “must finally contribute their fair share.”
That came on the heels of a straight-faced greeting from the pontiff. In a photo that quickly went viral, Pope Francis posed next to the president with a dour look while Trump grinned. Adding to the dissonant image, Trump’s wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, stood next to the president, silently staring off into the distance, their somber expressions heightened by their all black outfits.
Back in Brussels, after the outdoor NATO ceremony ended, as the leaders headed to their next event, most chatted and mingled, but Trump walked alone. It was a stark contrast to the way world leaders once maneuvered to get in the camera angle with Barack Obama when he was the new president on the block.
The scene repeated itself in Italy at the G-7 summit on Friday. After the “family photo” group shot, the other leaders convivially walked down the narrow Sicilian streets to their luncheon. Trump hung back and, minutes later, opted instead to ride in a golf cart. Later, a number of the leaders surrounded Trump, some laughing as they listened.
At the NATO group shot on Thursday Trump’s move to get to the front of the pack again caused double-takes.
The president pushed himself past Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, to get to the front of the group as the NATO leaders walked inside the alliance’s new headquarters building.
Markovic gave a tense smile, and later called it a “harmless situation.”
But plenty of people in the Balkans were not amused.
“It seems Donald Trump did not want that anyone overshadows his presence at the summit,” said the Montenegro newspaper Vijesti.
Asked about the incident, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he hadn’t seen the encounter but noted that places were assigned for the group photo.
Earlier, Trump and new French President Emmanuel Macron had engaged in a power hand shake that came across as a meeting of alpha males when they met for the first time over lunch at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Brussels.
After some friendly chatter, the two gripped each other’s hands so tightly before the cameras that their jaws seemed to clench. It looked like Trump was ready to pull away first but Macron wasn’t quite ready to disengage.
“They’re presenting themselves as equals,” said body language expert Lillian Glass. “They’re both alphas.”
A different kind of hand-clasping — or lack thereof — also sparked chatter during the trip.
Two days in a row, the president and first lady Melania Trump failed to connect when Trump reached out to grab his wife’s hand — interactions that were replayed in slow-motion and endlessly dissected online.
At a red-carpet welcome in Israel, Trump reached out to grab his wife’s hand but she appeared to slap his hand away. A day later, in Rome, Trump seemed to reach for the first lady’s hand just as she reached up to brush her hair aside. On Thursday, the two did hold hands as they made their way down the stairs of Air Force One on another stop in their itinerary.
Glass said the interactions left people wondering: “What is that going on in that relationship?”
There was no questioning Trump’s friendly mojo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — the two embraced repeatedly while Trump was in Israel, in a telling contrast to the strained relationship the Israeli leader had with Obama.
Netanyahu even tried to intervene when a politician in his Likud party with a reputation for inappropriate antics tried to take a selfie of the unamused-looking president by attempting to swat away Oren Hazan’s arm.
For diplomats, body language can be especially important.
Trump’s ambassador to Israel, Ron Dermer, is probably wishing he’d had a better poker face during the president’s Jerusalem stop.
When Trump told an Israeli delegation that he had just gotten back from the Middle East — which Jerusalem is clearly part of — Dermer instinctively reacted to the flub by putting his palm to his forehead.
Benac reported from Washington.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac and Jonathan Lemire at https://twitter.com/JonLemire
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