Kevin Jenks is playing the long game.
Some of the changes to the National Baseball Congress World Series made by Jenks, its tournament director, have been implemented in the last couple years. One difference this year is the elimination of Baseball ’Round the Clock, an NBC staple for nearly 30 years.
Other changes are still to come. Jenks works consistently at giving the tournament, which begins Saturday with four games at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, a national flavor and ending the regionalization that has dominated recent years.
More than 10 new teams – those who have never played in the World Series – and three new leagues are represented in the 30-team field, a number that Jenks wants to reduce in the future.
“We need to look at the idea of going to a smaller World Series, fewer teams,” Jenks said. “There’s a lot of things to look at of how we look at the qualifying for it. We’re not looking at sweeping, major changes and a whole new format for the thing, we just need to look at tweaking some things.”
Jenks’ most difficult obstacle has been replacing teams that drop out just before the tournament. Usually those replacement teams come from Kansas, where there are now three collegiate summer leagues after the addition of the Sunflower League this year.
“I miss baseball, I like being around it,” Sunflower commissioner Casey Walkup said. “With my experience, spending five years with the NBC (including as tournament director), I felt like there were some things that you could do to run a summer collegiate team in this area and not have to have a huge budget, but make it successful.”
The Sunflower is sending the Mulvane Patriots, a first-year team, to the World Series. Kansas has more than 20 summer teams and can be an easy fallback for Jenks when he is filling the field.
But Jenks looks in different directions first. The tournament added the University of Iowa, which is representing the United States similar to the way Kansas’ basketball team did in the World University Games last summer.
The San Antonio Angels, participating in next week’s championship week, and the Hattiesburg (Miss.) Black Sox are additional new participants. The NBC added a donation program to help teams with travel, food, lodging and incidental expenses
“But we need to get back to east of the Mississippi (River) more,” Jenks said. “That’s easier said than done, but that’s one reason why we introduced the Ambassador program, for us to build traction not only for our current participants, but for the future to be more attractive to other leagues we’re trying to recruit to come to Wichita.”
Jenks has a model for a 26-team tournament that would last two weeks instead of 16 days. A slight reformatting is particularly urgent because the World Series may have to move to Wichita State’s Eck Stadium or another location while a new downtown stadium is being built.
All options, Jenks said, are on the table.
“It’s just a model, it’s a draft,” Jenks said. “That’s why I want to lock ourselves in a room with a big whiteboard and some people I want to make sure are a part of that conversation. Like, ‘Hey guys, what do you think we could be doing here?’ ”
Baseball ’Round the Clock is gone because games are no longer played into the middle of the night. Umpiring, Jenks said, improved last year when new crew chief Jon Browar hired umpires with significant Division I experience.
It’s all part of a plan that may give the tournament a different look but represents the same goals – to attract the best teams and players to Wichita every summer.
“At the end of the day, do you want to come in and face a team that’s not very good competitively?” Jenks said. “Or do you want your guys to line up and say, ‘We’ve got to bring it tonight, because this is a good team.’ ”
Austin Shockers vs. Sterling (Colo.) Xpress, 1:30 p.m.
Round Rock (Texas) Express vs. 316 Elite, 4 p.m.
Ft. Collins (Colo.) Bandits vs. Mulvane Patriots, 7 p.m.
Northwest (Ariz.) Boom vs. Valley Center Mud Daubers, 9:30 p.m.
Westchase (Texas) Express vs. Jasper (Ind.) Reds, 1:30 p.m.
Dallas Dirtbags vs. TBA (Jayhawk), 4 p.m.
Cheney Diamond Dawgs vs. Fresno A’s, 7 p.m.
Hattiesburg (Miss.) Black Sox vs. Inland Empire (Calif.) Golden Bears, 9:30 p.m.