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Original Issue

Big victory in a small town

Teen-age amateurs from all over the U.S. met in New Mexico for the world series of Connie Mack baseball. It was a back-country spectacular

At 4:30 a.m. in Farmington, N. Mex. any day two weeks ago early risers tuned in to radio station KENN heard Navaho Disc Jockey Fred Johnson (his Indian name is Spotted Black Horse) say something that sounded like "Ya-tahey, kwa a si-nà, die e no tas-a, koonsheen, jose-en-klizo ekalee, baa, hoo ohodona Connie Mack World Series." Spotted Black Horse was telling his tribesmen it was time to give the latest scores of the boys' baseball tournament that had prompted the Indian and paleface citizens of Farmington to dub their town, on a banner stretched across Main Street, the AMATUER BASEBALL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. Visitors disputed nothing in that slogan but the spelling.

Farmington (pop. 24,000, give or take a few bobcats) is in the northwest corner of New Mexico, 188 miles from Albuquerque as the buzzard flies. There are lots of gas stations and trading posts, and a chamber of commerce brochure boasts that "another advantage of living in Farmington is the exceptionally high ratio of paved streets," though visitors tend to notice at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine that Hollywood is a dirt road. That such a place would go insane over kids' baseball seems improbable, but the Navaho-Mexican-Anglo amalgam plus the injection of oil and natural-gas money has somehow resulted in a remarkable enthusiasm for the game, probably outdoing any American city of comparable size. Two weeks ago 53,100 people crowded into Babe Ruth Park in Farmington to see the 15 games of the 1966 Connie Mack World Series, won by the Tordena Bullets, a team representing both Torrance and Gardena, Calif.

Farmington itself has 1,400 baseball-playing boys and 65 teams, but the unusual spectator interest started in 1962, when the state finals and the Southwest regional championship of Babe Ruth baseball (for boys 13, 14 and 15) were held there. That made it possible to get the 1963 Babe Ruth World Series, which drew more than 50,000 spectators. In 1964 it was the Connie Mack regional tourney (for boys 16, 17 and 18) and in 1965 the Connie Mack World Series, which had never done better than $300 profit in six years at St. Joseph, Mo. and Springfield, Ill. More than 45,000 people turned out for the 14 games in Farmington, earning $6,486 for the town and 54,006 for amazed American Amateur Baseball Congress officials. This year 1,868 reserved-seat tickets (priced at a neat $10 apiece) were sold before the tournament even started. Farmington has taken a permanent grip on the championships, just as Omaha owns the College World Series.

Profit margins are only part of the story. As the teams from Des Moines, Toledo, Seattle, Pensacola, Fla., Islip, N.Y. and Tordena arrived at the airport (Frontier Airlines serves Farmington), they walked down a red carpet to the cheers of a hundred or so fans, the blaring music of a band and the marching of a girls' drill team.

Each of the airport arrivals got a police-siren escort into town, and thousands lined the sidewalks to watch the guests parade up and down Main and Broadway on floats. A welcome barbecue in Brookside Park, one of 11 public parks in town, offered pinto beans and 600 pounds of beef. Former major leaguers Warren Spahn and Andy Carey were flown in to appear in the parade and the opening ceremonies and at a clinic for Little Leaguers. (In practically the only sour note of the week, Spahn reported the theft of a suitcase containing two World Series rings, clothing and a wad of money.)

Each team had a local civic group as sponsor and a local girl as hostess. Judy Nickerson gave up a trip to Asbury Park. N.J., where she would have competed in the Miss High School of America pageant, in order to stay for the fun. Bonnie Sue Jones, Miss Farmington and first runner-up in the Miss New Mexico contest, gave Seattle Pitcher Craig Hilden a personal tour of the city. Tordena's sponsor was the American Petroleum Institute (Farmington prides itself on being the Oil Capital of the San Juan Basin and Energy Capital of the South-west), which produced a band, two fancy cakes and plenty of local lovelies for a dance Monday night. For Toledo players and parents the Rotary held a weenie roast on the bluffs overlooking the San Juan River and provided another batch of girls.

When the players were not flirting or gorging on hot dogs, they were shown the sights, among them Former Governor Tom Bolack's B-Square Ranch, only half a mile outside the city limits. Bolack is an oil-rich big-game hunter who sponsors a Babe Ruth team (the B-Square Ranch Cardinals) and serves as president of the Albuquerque Dodgers of the Texas League. In two large rooms of his ranch house he has on display hundreds of his best trophies, including elephant-ear tea tables, zebra-skin rugs and what must be the granddaddy of all polar bears. On one wall hangs a loathsome corpulent crocodile, whose skin weighed 450 pounds when Bolack shipped it from Africa to a Denver taxidermist. When the croc was stuffed, it would not fit through the taxidermist's door and had to be lowered out a window.

Players also got to see Aztec ruins, the Navaho reservation, a narrow-gauge railroad in nearby Colorado and the oil and natural-gas fields. Toledo Shortstop Randy Mohler even got to take the wheel of a single-engine Cessna on the first ride of his life in a small plane.

"I've never seen anything so organized," said Detroit Tiger Scout Herm Kander. "Everybody's got a job to do, and they do it. A Toledo couple's car broke down and a local man gave them his to use through the whole tournament. People even volunteer to wash your clothes. I've been to about 30 tournaments, but this is No. 1."

The players rewarded their hosts with exciting baseball at Babe Ruth Park, which is equipped with lights, electronic scoreboard and an air-conditioned press box. Toledo, the first team knocked out of the double-elimination tourney in 1965, had vowed to return and did, after winning regional playoffs in Michigan and Indiana. It was made the cofavorite with Islip, N.Y., the only other returning team. But Islip, along with Pensacola, Fort Worth and host Farmington, was knocked out early. On the other hand, Toledo beat Tordena in the first round and continued to the finals by downing Des Moines once and Seattle twice. It appeared that Toledo would be the first team from east of the Mississippi to win the Connie Mack title.

But Tordena, the champion in 1964 at Springfield, sneaked into the finals from the losers' bracket, winning two games by one run. Gary Ryerson, a polio victim who has to wear a brace on one leg, struck out 24 batters in a 13-inning 4-3 victory over Des Moines. First Baseman Jeff Osborn, who will room with Ryerson at Arizona State this fall, knocked in the winning run. Tordena was used to coming back. It had not even won its own league title in California, but had fought back to gain the Pacific Southwest regional title.

Since Toledo was unbeaten, Tordena had to beat it twice in a row for the championship. The first game, Wednesday night, was a ridiculous seesaw. Tordena took and lost the lead three times and trailed 12-11 in the bottom of the seventh (Connie Mackers play only seven innings). The first two batters went out, but then two singles and a hit batter loaded the bases and Jeff Osborn doubled in two runs to win the game. The blooper fell just between the right fielder and second baseman. Thursday night's game was a 10-0 rout, with Tordena's Dave McCormick throwing a no-hitter, and the East was thwarted again.

Following the tears and the cheers, Tordena got the big trophy in ceremonies at home plate, but the sad Toledo delegation in the stands bravely continued its postgame custom of singing a chauvinistic song, We're Strong for Toledo. The song was listened to sympathetically by the polite people of Farmington—Oil Capital of the San Juan Basin, Energy Capital of the Southwest, headquarters for amateur baseball and hospitality capital of the world.