Roy Hobbs World Se­ries

Lee County’s No. 1 ama­teur event, re­turns in Oc­to­ber

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY GLENN MILLER

The fic­tional Roy Hobbs was a base­ball nat­u­ral, a freak­ishly gifted player with prodi­gious home-run power. Hobbs was a cre­ation of leg­endary au­thor Bernard Mala­mud in his novel The Nat­u­ral. I played base­ball for decades but was never a nat­u­ral. But I did play in the Roy Hobbs World Se­ries, wore base­ball uni­forms, laced up spikes and felt the sat­is­fy­ing ker­plunk of fly balls plop­ping into my glove in cen­ter­field. It was the siren song of base­ball that lured me back to play­ing the game of my youth in my 40s. It’s a se­duc­tive song, one that brings about 4,000 play­ers age 35 and up to Lee County ev­ery fall to play at JetBlue Park, Cen­tu­ryLink Sports Com­plex, City of Palms Park and Terry Park. They come from near and far. When I played in the 1990s and early 2000s, I drove a few miles to ball­parks. Oth­ers travel much far­ther. A Rus­sian team, for ex­am­ple, of­ten par­tic­i­pates. Teams come from Nova Sco­tia and Wash­ing­ton, from Puerto Rico and Cal­i­for­nia, from Mas­sachusetts and North Carolina. Wear­ing a uni­form and en­joy­ing the ca­ma­raderie of the dugout, bond­ing with team­mates and play­ing the game of our youth, is mag­i­cal.

The Roy Hobbs World Se­ries has been held in Lee County since 1993, grow­ing from 54 teams to more than 240.

Base­ball is the only field of en­deavor where a man can suc­ceed three times out of ten and be con­sid­ered a good per­former." —Ted Wil­liams

Although I no longer play, I’m still part of the Roy Hobbs World Se­ries. Roy Hobbs pres­i­dent Tom Gif­fen has in re­cent years asked me to write sto­ries for the event’s pro­grams and news­let­ter, The In­side Pitch. That means I meet base­ball play­ers, men and even women who love the game, who revel in the chance to play again.

My di­rec­tive from Tom dur­ing the World Se­ries is sim­ple. Find sto­ries. Tom usu­ally has play­ers in mind, but other times I wan­der the parks seek­ing sto­ries. One day last fall a player walked past me on the way to the park­ing lot. This player had a sharp black-and-white uni­form, eye-black smeared un­der the eyes. But there was some­thing that struck me as dif­fer­ent. This player was a woman.

Be­fore she reached the park­ing lot, I in­tro­duced my­self and asked if she had time to chat. Jan Yu­van was a 52-year-old out­fielder for a team from Chicago called the Windy City War­riors. She was the only woman in the 2016 Roy Hobbs World Se­ries. Like the men in the tour­na­ment, she has a sim­ple rea­son to play, one she shares with all of them. “I just love the game,” the yoga in­struc­tor told me. “There’re al­ways new things to learn, and I love the pace, the cere­bral na­ture of it and love the guys, the ban­ter in the dugout and how much of a men­tal chal­lenge it is.”

Jan Yu­van shares her love of the sport on her yoga web­site with these words: “My pas­sion is base­ball, which I play at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. I am also an avid stu­dent of the game.”

Base­ball’s siren song con­tin­ues lur­ing thou­sands of play­ers to Lee County. But nearly a month of Roy Hobbs World Se­ries that starts in Oc­to­ber means more than the crack of the bat―it means the ka-ching of cash reg­is­ters. Lots of ka-ching­ing. A Lee County study of 62 ama­teur sports events in 2016 ranked it No. 1 in ho­tel room nights (13,746), di­rect spend­ing ($8.47 mil­lion) and to­tal eco­nomic im­pact ($14.1 mil­lion).

The Roy Hobbs World Se­ries has been held in Lee County since 1993, grow­ing from 54 teams to more than 240. Play­ers don’t come to in­fuse the lo­cal econ­omy with their dol­lars. They come for base­ball, lured here by that siren song of bat and ball, gloves and spikes, fields and grass and sun­shine and com­pe­ti­tion. Oh, and the crack of the bat and ker­plunk of balls land­ing in gloves. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s warmer here in the fall than in Nova Sco­tia, Chicago or Moscow. Dur­ing last fall’s World Se­ries, I met 82-year-old short­stop Tony Es­pos­ito, who is from Chicago and played for the New Jer­sey Cardinals. In 1953, he signed a contract with a $7,500 bonus with the St . Louis Browns. “My mother thought we hit the lot­tery,” Tony told me. Tony never reached the ma­jors, but last fall, 63 years later, he was play­ing base­ball. Yes, he was back in Lee County along with thou­sands of oth­ers who can’t re­sist base­ball’s siren song. Free­lance writer Glenn Miller is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to TOTI Me­dia.

Some 4,000 ballplay­ers age 35 and up ar­rive in South­west Florida in Oc­to­ber.

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