MCKINNEY, Texas – The opening game of the American Amateur Baseball Congress’s Mickey Mantle Division World Series proved to be a hard test for the area’s best 16U players, all handpicked by area high school coaches and team owner and Hall of Famer Roger Foutch. Foutch’s Strike Zone was shut out Wednesday afternoon, 8-0, by D-BAT Bonesio of Texas in five innings.
Lapeer High coach Larry Grumley, an assistant coach for Foutch’s Strike Zone, said the winners had a very talented shortstop that stood in at 6-foot-2 and has already committed to play for Texas A&M. Grumley noted that each team that qualified is guaranteed three games with the title up for grabs on Aug. 3 in Texas.
Former Lapeer East players Kyle Combs and Kevin Thompson, along with North Branch’s Mack McGough are on the Foutch team. They began play on Wednesday in the series openers with Thompson connecting on one of just three hits Foutch’s managed. Kearsley’s Jacob Lucius and Landin Mitchell had the other hits.
On Thursday in Foutch’s second game, the team was defeated, 8-2, by the Union City Lookouts of California. Grumley said McGough and Thompson both pitched in the contest and Kyle Combs had a two RBI single.
“They said it has been a great experience,” Grumley said via text Thursday night after the game. “They are a little bummed but the accomplishment of getting (to the World Series) will mean a lot someday.”
Foutch, who owns Strike Zone in Flint Township, had the idea of building this 16U team this past winter and bounced it off the area high school coaches, including Grumley.
“I think it was around Christmas when Roger first brought up the idea,” Grumley said. “He was involved in area youth baseball back when I played. Flint used to be a real hotbed and his idea was to try something different to try to build it back up to its glory. We were all asked to hand pick kids from the area that maybe weren’t necessarily the best players from our teams, but just good quality kids. We picked the kids based on stability, their reputations as just good kids and their overall character.”
Grumley said the experiment appears to have paid off, and then some.
“It worked out well,” Grumley explained. “They are really close and most have either played together or know each other from playing against their teams during the high school season. Until this past week before they headed to Texas, the team had no official practice, they just worked it out amongst themselves and practiced hard. Then, they ended up winning and qualified for the World Series in just their first year. I’m pretty excited for all of them.”
“We will definitely do this again next year, but it’s going to be harder with now 50 kids to pick from,” Grumley added. “We’ve talked about possibly putting together two teams, maybe with a freshmen-level team, but we’ll just have to have more discussion and see how it all works out.”