AAU International Tournament – January 20-23, 2005
Circle Tap of Denmark Wisconsin
2005 AAU International Tournament Champions
Davids Meet Goliaths at 2005 AAU International Men’s Tournament
by Jim Flanagan, Editor, Fastpitchwest.com
(this story featured featured in the April 2005 issue of Softball Magazine )
[ORLANDO, FL – 1/23/05]- The “Davids” in the world of men’s fastpitch met the “Goliaths” at the Sixth Annual AAU Men’s International Fastball tournament at the Disney Complex in Orlando, Florida, January 20-23, 2005 with sometimes surprising results. At the end of the day, it was a pair of Goliaths, The Bar/Circle Tap of Denmark Wisconsin, USA and Los Socios of Venezuela squaring off for the title. However, the Goliaths of the tournament met some stiff competition from some upstart “Davids” of the tournament along the way.
More often than not, tournaments in the world men’s fastball today are organized according to classification. The ISC (International Softball Congress) has two divisions of play, an open division, and intermediate division, the ISC II. The ASA (Amateur Softball Association) holds national tournaments with at four main classifications of play, Major, “A”, “B” and “C” , while the third national organization, NAFA (North American fast its association) holds national tournaments in five divisions, Open, “AAA”, “AA” “A Major”, and “A”.
The AAU International Men’s Fastball tournament is unique in combining all of the teams into one division of play, regardless of classification. The level of competition is remarkably balanced, due in part to the fact that the tournament is played in the winter, and the rosters are wide open. Many world class players are sprinkled among otherwise lower division teams. Players from the lower divisions are also fans of the upper divisions, so one of the attractions of the AAU Tournament is that they get a chance to play alongside, or compete against upper division players that they wouldn’t otherwise see. Additionally, some of these lower division teams enjoy adding a big name player or two from upper division teams, helping them compete with “the big boys”. Both fans and players alike spend part of the first day of the tournament sizing up the rosters of the various teams, to see who’s playing for who, a bit like major league baseball does early in the year. (The tournament is held in the shadow of the Atlanta Braves spring training facility)
One of the more poignant comments was heard during one of the games involving the Six Nation Chiefs, led by the legendary pitcher Darren Zack and an underdog opponent. The opposing pitcher met Zack at the pitcher’s mound in between innings, and told him “It is an honor to share the circle with you”. As might be expected, pitcher Gerald Muizelaar of the ISC World Champion Broken Bow team got plenty of attention from other players at the tournament. Tournament photographer, Maddy Flanagan received a request by a couple of Radio 560 players from Mexico City, Mexico, to have their picture taken with Gerald Muizelaar, the pitcher they had only heard about before traveling to Orlando for the AAU tournament. (see photo that accompanies this story and many more posted online at www.fastpitchwest.com)
Another player who enjoyed stepping up to the higher level of competition was 64 year old Rich Markam, of the Orlando Kings, who has been pitching for 35 years on two continents and 19 states. Rich will be 65 this season, but has no intention of giving up the game anytime soon.
Among the notable performances in the role of “David” were by the Texaco Pirates of the Bahamas, who gave eventual champion Circle Tap/The Bar one of their toughest games of the tournament. Texaco’s pitcher, Edney “The Heat” Bethel, had a lot to do with that. Last year, Bethel pitched his team from the Bahamas to the consolation championship. Against Circle Tap/The Bar, Bethel went the distance, striking out 10 and losing a hard fought 6-5 battle. Bethel started out as a catcher, catching for the Bahamas’ Pan-Am games team, before learning to pitch from International Softball Federation Hall of Famer, “Dougie” Smith of the Bahamas.
Bethel surrendered three runs in the first inning to Circle Tap/The Bar, but, but settled down and kept his team in the game, until a three-run homer by teammate William Weatherford in the third inning got them even. Circle Tap/The Bar then took a five to three lead in the fifth inning on back-to-back solo home runs by Chris Delarwelle, the tournament’s most valuable player, and Don Garvey. But the Pirates, stormed right back in the bottom of the fifth with two runs of their own to tie the game at five on a triple by designated hitter Greg Gardner, which brought home Andrew Albury and Edney Bethel.
The final 6-5 margin of victory for Circle Tap was provided by a sixth inning solo home run by one of the world’s best players, Chris Miljavic, but fans were impressed by the gutsy performance by Bethel and his teammates. Bethel also helped his team in other games not only on the mound but with his bad as well, including a home run, pictured on these pages
Another team in the “David” category was the Orlando Kings, who grabbed the 28th and final spot in the tournament when another team withdrew. The Kings consisted largely of a local modified fastpitch team, plus the solid pitching of Tom Vogel, on loan from his KVM Concrete Team in Pennsylvania. The Kings fell to one of the Goliaths in the elimination round, the Peterboro Pros of Ontario Canada, but by only a 1-0 margin, coming within one run of advancing in the elimination round to face another Goliath, the NY Gremlins. Ballparkradio’s Jim Flanagan stepped out of the booth for his first AAU tournament action, a nail-biting-bases-loaded-but-scoreless seventh in the Peterboro game.
Jimmy Yates team from Ohio, the Orr Park Knights were another of the “Davids” who normally compete at the intermediate level of play, but putting on a fine performance in this year’s tournament. Orr Park finished second in their pool, suffering their only two losses to last year’s champions, and the 2005 runner-up, Los Socios of Venezuela.
ISC Broadcasting pioneer David Blackburn was in uniform for the weekend, instead of behind the microphone, pitching well for the Maccabi team which is due to compete in Israel this summer. Blackburn pitched well, dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Jaime Simpson-led Florida Fastpitch team in the elimination round. Maccabi was one of the teams adding some big-name talent, taking Victoria pitcher Collin McKenzie with them.
The Final Four and Championship Game
Last year’s champion, Los Socios bested last year’s runner-up, Mexicali, in one tournament semi-final, while The Bar/Circle Tap bested top seeded the New York Gremlins in an extra inning 8-7 with a wild finish for the other spot in the championship game. The Bar/Circle Tap followed that win with an 8-6 win over Los Socios of Venezuela for the 2005 AAU International Tournament title.
The Bar/Circle Tap’s Road to the Title
(with thanks to Tony Schaaf)
The 2005 AAU champions, was actually a combined team made up of last year’s #4 ranked team in the ISC World, Circle Tap of Denmark, Wisconsin, and the ISC II third place finisher, The Bar of Appelton, Wisconsin. The Bar/Circle Tap lineup was loaded from top to bottom, starting with Chris Miljavic, through the power part of the batting order, Chris Delarwelle, Robbie O’Brien and Don Garvey. The Saskatoon pitching trio of Dewey Dyck, Rob Scheller and Trevor Ethier gave The Bar/Circle Tap one of the best pitching staffs in the tournament. It was their first trip to Orlando, but doubtful it will be their last.
The Bar/Circle Tap (TB/CT) was a perfect 7 and 0 enroute to the title:
• Game 1: 6-1 win over the Memphis Posse. y behind the 4 hit pitching of Rob Scheller. Chris Miljavac, Trevor Ethier, Don Garvey, Chad Mix all had two hits and Chris Delarwelle hit his first home run of the tournament. (but not his last)
• Game 2: In game two TB/CT managed to score four against the Legendary Darren Zack and his Six Nations Team. Dewey Dyck threw a 3 hitter for the win, while getting support from Chris Delarwelle, who hit his second home run, and Robbie O’Brien and Steve Sells who chipped in two hits each.
• Game 3: After surrendering 4 runs to the Miami Cardinals, TB/CT came back with seven runs for the win. Jon Zipperer had three hits, while Chris Miljavac and Darren Derricks had two. The win clinched first place in their pool and a first round bye in the elimination bracket.
• Game 4: On Friday the bracket play began with the TB/CT team facing the Texaco Pirates out of the Bahamas. In a spirited game the level of intensity picked up. The TB/CT jumped out to a 3 to 0 lead but the Pirates answered with 3 in the third. The TB/CT added two in the fifth but the Pirates answered with 2 in the bottom of the fifth to tie it. Chris Miljavac then led off the 6th with a solo homerun to take the lead for good.
• Game 5: On Saturday, TB/CT shut out the tough Bloomington Stix, one of last year’s final four teams. TB/CT used small ball to take a 2 to 0 lead in the bottom of the second on Darren Derricks’ bunt. TB/CT added two more in the 4th when Steve Sell scored on a passed ball and two batters later Tony Schaaf scored on a passed ball from second. Rob Scheller pitched his second complete game to secure the win.
• Game 6: In a tournament semi-final, TB/CT took on the number 1 seeded NY Gremlins and Gerard Muizelaar. While one might have expected a low scoring affair, it turned out to be anything but. TB/CT jumped out to a 1 to 0 lead in the bottom of the first on Trevor Eithier’s double and Robbie O’Brien’s single. The Gremlins answered with a run in the top of the third. TB/CT added one in the fourth. Then the flood gates opened. With 1 out and a runner on first TB/CT thought they had turned a double play, but did not get the call. With a runner on first and two outs the Gremlins exploded for 5 runs, highlighted by a 3 run homer by Paul Walford. A fired up TB/CT team responded with 3 runs on homers by Chris Delarwelle and Don Garvey to cut the lead to one, at 6-5. TB/CT added two in the sixth to take a 7 to 6 lead on Trevor Ethier’s two run homer, but the Gremlins rallied for one in the top of the seventh to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The Gremlins started the 8th with a runner on second but weree not able to advance him past third, thanks to the pitching of Trevor Ethier, on in relief of Dewey Dyck. TB/CT started the bottom of the 8th with Chad Mix on second. He advanced to third on a wild pitch while the Gremlins were trying to intentionally walk Chris Miljavac. Miljavac then walked. Ethier’s shallow fly to center was not deep enough to score Mix. Mike Piechnik, on in relief of Gerald Muizelaar, walked the hot hitting Chris Delarwelle to load the bases. Then the wild finish: Mike Piechnik struck out Robbie O’Brien, Chris Miljavac wandered off of second base, Piechnik whirled and threw to second but Miljavac beat the throw. Chad Mix alertly took off for home and scored the winning run in a wild game.
• Game 7: In the finals TB/CT faced the two time defending Champions Los Socios from Venezuela. TB/CT jumped to a 2 to 0 lead in the top of the first. TB/CT added 2 more in the third but Los Socios kept fighting back adding 3 in the bottom of the third. TB/CT added 3 more in the 5th but Los Socios notched single runs in the 5th and 6th to keep it close Chris Delarwelle hit his 6th home of the tournament to clinch the title for
The Bar/Circle Tap
• Individual Awards: Chris Delarwelle secured MVP honors with his .526 batting average, 10 RBIs and 6 home runs. Rob Scheller secured Outstanding pitcher honors with two complete game victories.
• Other outstanding performances by TB/CT players were Jon Zipperer, .500 avg., Trevor Ethier .417 avg, with 2 doubles, Darren Derricks .364 avg, Chris Miljavac .364 avg, Don Garvey .350 avg, Brock Bisick .333 avg., and Chad Mix .333 avg.
The Oklahoma Redskins were the 2005 consolation bracket champion.
Last year’s “Final Four” boasted four different teams from four different countries, champion Los Socios of Venezuela, runner-up Mexicali of Mexico, and third-place finishers the Sebringville Sting of Canada and the Bloomington Stix of the USA. In 2005, three different countries were represented in the “Final Four”, third place Mexicali, Mexico, runner-up Los Socios of Venezuela, and the New York Gremlins and champions The Bar/Circle Tap from the USA.
AAU Tournament Continues to Grow
The AAU International tournament started in 2000, with a modest eight teams, growing to 16 seems the following year, 17 teams in 2002, 18 teams in 2003, and 24 teams in last year’s tournament and to its largest field of teams this year, with 28. The AAU International tournament is organized as a collaborative effort by Alex Linares of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), and Ken Hackmeister, executive director of the ISC, the premier organization for men’s fastball. The past two years, the tournament has added streaming audio broadcasts of selected games, produced by Jim Flanagan of Fastpitchwest/Ballparkradio.com, enabling fastball fans worldwide to follow the action live on the internet.
The talk of the tournament in 2005 was the dramatic increase in the number of ISC World caliber players, including a number of the world’s best pitchers, such as the legendary Darren Zack, Gerald Muizelaar, Dean Holein, Mike Piechnik, Paul Algar, Rob Scheller and Dewey Dyck, and some of the games best hitters, like Chris Delarwelle.
Not surprisingly, many of the pitchers from Canada enjoy the trip to Orlando in the midst of their winter. One of the managers joked that there were no Canadian pitchers left in Canada during the tournament. Looking at the list of Canadian pitchers in Orlando for the AAU, he may have been right: Derrick Mayson, Jaime Simpson, Darren Zack, Greg Garrity, Collin Mc Kenzie, Blair Ezekiel, Fabian McCarty, Paul Koert, Rob Fawcett, Rob Scheller, Dewey Dyck, Jeff Wilson, Craig Hollingsworth, Trevor McCabe, Mike Piechnik, Joe Robbins, Gerald Muizelaar, Luke Raymer, Wayne Wells, Rob O’Brien, Jason White, Dan Valachy, Kurt Clark and Ian Knott.
As the worldwide reach of the tournament continues to expand, invites for 2006 are being extended as far away as Japan, New Zealand and Australia, with as many as 32 teams expected. The AAU International tournament has become one of the most popular tournaments around, so interested teams would be well advised to make their plans early to bid for a spot, as most of the teams in attendance in 2005 were already talking about their plans to return in 2006. As the manager of this year’s champions, The Bar/Circle Tap said: “I would definitely recommend the AAU International tournament for those who love fastpitch and would love to get out of the cold.”