Cody Newman has seen how much fun a community-backed summer baseball team for college players can be. He’s hoping to bring the same thing to Cass County with the Midwest A’s.
Newman serves as the head coach for the A’s, a team of 24 college-aged players who call the Raymore-Peculiar High baseball field their home. Some day, he would like to see the A’s have what many small-town summer league teams have – host families for the players, events and promotions during games, and entertaining baseball with a local following.
“We’re trying to market the team as something community,” Newman said. “We went and experienced Nevada (Mo.) in the MINK league. They hand out free ice cream when you return a foul ball. They don’t do any big things, but they do a lot of little things and they get a lot of the town out to follow them.”
Newman, a 2004 Ray-Pec High graduate who had coached and taught in Belton the last seven years, is in his third season of leading the A’s. He’s actually been involved with the team since 2008, when he was asked to take over an under-14 team. Some of those players are still with him today.
Newman also played for Will Rogers on the Kansas City Blues, which started as an under-16 team but moved to the Ban Johnson League when the players turned 18. One day, Newman got a call from his former coach.
“He asked me to take over the team,” Newman said. “You’ll operate as head coach (Rogers told him), I’ll operate as general manager, you’ll get all your players and that stuff.”
And the Blues became the A’s. After two seasons in Ban Johnson, the team this year joined the Mid-Plains League, a new six-team conference. The other five teams are in Kansas: the Topeka Golden Giants, Topeka Senators, Rossville Rattlers, Junction City Brigade and Baldwin City Blues.
“I’ve been really impressed with the competition,” Newman said. “The other five teams are loaded with Division-I and Division-II kids. The other night when we swept Rossville at home they threw three Division-I pitchers at us.”
The A’s don’t have any major-college players on their 24-man roster, but so far they’ve been able to handle the competition. After taking two of three games in Baldwin City June 16-17, they stood 9-6 overall and 6-5 in league play.
“I feel like we’ve missed a few opportunities to win a couple of baseball games, but overall I’m pleased with the way we’re playing and where we’re at right now,” Newman said.
The A’s aren’t a team that’s strong in one area. Some games, Newman said, it’s the pitching that excels. Other times the defense comes through. And the offense, even when struggling with runners in scoring position, will still manage a game-winning hit.
Josh Garcia and Christian Arnold have led the A’s offense most of the season. Garcia, an infielder who plays for Park University, has a team-best .312 batting average and also leads the team with 10 runs. Arnold, an outfielder from Ray-Pec graduate now with Kansas City, Kansas Community College, is hitting .308 and leads the team with 11 RBIs.
“Those are guys that have been hitting in the three, four, and five holes from the first game of the season,” Newman said. “That’s kind of what you expect from the middle of your lineup.”
On the mound, the A’s rely on Derek Gordon, a right-hander who is 3-0 with a 1.12 ERA and a team-high 17 strikeouts over 16 innings, and lefty Bryan Dudley, who is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Gordon and Dudley also play for Park.
More than half of the A’s roster is made up of players from the area – Harrisonville, Ray-Pec, Belton and Lee’s Summit. Newman would like one day to attract more players from other parts of the country, something he said he could do if he could find them a place to stay.
“As far as getting kids, that’s not a problem,” Newman said. “I’ve had to turn down seven or eight because I didn’t have a place for them to stay.”
Newman hopes to solve that problem by drumming up more interest in his team. They have a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. He’s sent letters to businesses in the Harrisonville, Belton and Raymore-Peculiar areas looking for sponsorships and support. The Raymore-Peculiar School District has agreed to let the team use its field.
On June 29, the team will hold a fund raiser at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Lee’s Summit.
“We’re talking about doing signs,” Newman said. “We’ve got an announcer who will read any type of promotion during games. We hand out coupons, we can do raffles. We’re capable of doing all that stuff, we just haven’t had a lot of feedback right now.”
By working hard both on and off the field, Newman is hoping to change that.
“I don’t think there would be a lack of interest,” Newman said. “We just have to find a way to communicate to the community, to see what they what from it and what they’re willing to do.”