Johnson City Press Monday, October 20, 2014

Sports

Cross, Crusaders want to lift level of travel baseball

August 3rd, 2014 9:34 pm by Trey Williams

Adam Cross wants Tri-Cities travel baseball teams to have a prayer on the national stage.

Cross, who played in the Atlanta Braves (1995-96) and San Diego (’97) organizations and coached at Walters State, founded the East Tennessee Crusaders baseball organization last year. The Crusaders, who emphasize Christianity and pray with opposing teams after games, concluded a successful summer in their debut season with the 12-U team’s fifth-place finish at the USSSA Elite World Series at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

The 10-U team finished third in a USSSA World Series in Myrtle Beach. The 11-U team finished second in the same World Series in Myrtle Beach. And the 13-U team finished fifth in a 72-team national invitational.

Cross said younger players generally haven’t had any ideal options to consistently play elite competition. The Daniel Norris-led Junior Toppers finished third in the country in a top-notch USSSA 13-U tournament in Maryland and were a force for years, and the late Pappy Crowe had the area’s top high school- and college-aged travel teams for parts of five decades.

“What’s been missing in this area is really good travel baseball for kids,” Cross said. “When you try to get outside of this bubble and go play the best out of Atlanta or Charlotte or wherever, there was nothing here for the Tri-Cities kids that allowed them to do that. Now, we’ve got 8-U through 15-U. It’ll be 16-U now moving forward. …

“I’ve had my team now for five years. There were so many people that watched us play, saw what we were doing – asking teams to pray after the games and that kind of stuff – and they just really liked how we were operating and what we were about. It really wasn’t about winning, it was about development. We’re developing character and better baseball players.”

The Crusaders have accomplished coaches. The 10-U team was coached by Hanes Torbett, who played at Science Hill, North Carolina and with the New York Mets organization. James Motte, the 11-U coach, played at Arizona and in the Minnesota Twins organization. Cross coached the 13-U.

Science Hill Hall of Famer Gary “Shorty” Adams, who played in the minors for the Montreal Expos, coached the 15-U team.

Stan Barrs, who played for the Johnson City Cardinals in 1986-87 and in ’88 for St. Louis’ affiliate in Savannah, Georgia, was the hitting coach for the 12-U team. The pitching coach was Scott Slemp, who was on the 1987 King College baseball team that’s been inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

“We’ve been able to be super competitive this first year on a Southeastern and national scale, which is great for the Tri-Cities area-based kids,” Cross said. “Our goal is to develop these kids to where when they’re juniors and seniors in high school that they’re ready for that platform … and it’ll hopefully open up more doors than would’ve been opened up if they hadn’t experienced it.”

Crusading is a year-round gig. Cross said team parent Tim Copenhaver supplied an indoor practice facility behind his Champion Chevrolet dealership.

Copenhaver’s son Nick supplied the game-winning hit in one of the 12-U team’s victories in Orlando.

“Tim actually built an indoor facility there in Johnson City, which allowed us to do a lot of winter stuff with a lot of the different teams,” Cross said. “It’s 6,000 square feet and it’s our home, if you will, when we do indoor stuff. … Tim never hesitated. He said, ‘Absolutely.’”

The 12-U coach, Mark Adcox, said Copenhaver and team mom Angie Stanley were invaluable this season. That said, Adcox couldn’t resist goofing on Copenhaver’s catch phrase on his car commercials.

“When we’d get a big hit or win or something I’d say to him, ‘How do they do that,’” Adcox said with a chuckle.

The Crusaders are getting the best kind of advertising – word of mouth.

“Parents are contacting us,” Cross said. “The high school coaches are excited about what we’re doing. Players are gonna get a great base of baseball knowledge, fundamentals and skills at a super-young age that’s not out there everywhere. … And the people in the travel baseball world know who we are now – locally and beyond.”

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