WHEELING - Kent Tekulve, who was on the mound for the final out of the 1979 World Series when the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Baltimore Orioles, told the players competing in the 2012 West Virginia American League State Baseball Tournament opening today morning to treasure the memories they will make this week.
Tekulve, the guest speaker at the kickoff banquet held Tuesday night at the Oglebay Resort's Levenson Shelter, said that the game of baseball was designed for them.
''When Abner Doubleday invented this game, he did not envision PNC Park. He didn't envision players making millions of dollars playing professional ball. What he envisioned was amateur baseball and the game as a form of recreation, competition and a way of learning life lessons,'' Tekulve stressed.
''That really applies more to American Legion baseball than it would to professional baseball. This is kind of like the grass roots of what baseball meant to be. The kids playing in the state tournament will be getting an experience they should remember for a long, long time.''
Tekulve also related a story about the late, great Willie Stargell, who led the Pirates to that championship season in 1979. ''Willie Stargell, the most wonderful man and teammate I was fortunate enough to play with, had this saying about playing the game. He said you remember every night why you were there because the first thing the umpire says is: 'Play Ball.'
''He doesn't say work ball and he doesn't say struggle. He says 'Play Ball.' It is a game to be enjoyed and at this level, this is exactly what this game is all about.''
In a brief interview before he had to hustle back to Pittsburgh where he hosts the wrapup show following the Pirates game against Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, ''Teke" pointed out that he was pleased with the Pirates acquisition of Gaby Sanchez from the Miami Marlins and Travis Snider from the Toronto Blue Jays. He also felt the Pirates strengthened the pitching staff by getting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros last week.
''One of my biggest criteria at the beginning of this trading deadline thing was that the Pirates don't trade away the top prospects because those are the guys that are going to be your lifeline in years to come,'' he said.
Tekulve was specifically speaking about pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Both players were sought by other teams as Cole was Pittsburgh's No. 1 pick and the overall first selection in the 2011 draft. Taillon was No. 2 selection the previous year after the Washington National selected Bryce Harper.
''The Pirates are getting better and you are not going to have chances anymore to be at the top of the draft,'' Tekulve said. ''They are going to be drafting in the middle of the pack and little bit below it because of the success they are having on the field.
''When you look at it, if you want a No. 1 or a No. 2 starting pitcher there is only one way to get it. Draft it and develop it. It costs way to much to try and sign one of those pitchers on the free agent market.
''The organization was lopsided with a lot of pitching and not a lot of hitting at the top two levels, especially after moving Starling Marte up to the big league and trading Randy Grossman. Moving Brad Lincoln to Toronto and picking up Snider and Sanchez gave them a couple of extra bats. Time will tell how good the bats are but at the end of the day, the Pirates are better now and the team down the line is better.''
A crowd of about 175 people attended Tuesday night's dinner. Among those in attendance were the coaches and players that will be competing in the double-elimination state championship event during the next four days at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Youth Sports Complex.
Games are scheduled at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today through Friday with the finals set to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Opening the tournament at 11 a.m. today will be what should be a good matchup of Area 1 champion Moundsville Post 3 (27-16) and three-time defending state champ South Charleston Post 94 (25-11).
At 3 p.m., Berkeley Post 14 (13-20), the Area 4 Champion, plays Area 5 winner Elkins Post 29 (34-7). Wheeling Post 1 (21-9), the host team, takes on Area 2 winner Fairmont Post 17 (25-8) at 7 p.m.
Moundsville manager Bill Burkett, pleased after Post 3's doubleheader sweep of Wheeling to claim the Area 1 championship last Saturday, expects this week's tournament to be highly competitive. Tonight's matchup against South Charleston will be the first between the two teams.
''Everybody here has a good team and it is going to depend on who pitches the best and who can hit the baseball,'' Burkett said. ''Our kids did a really nice job the season and in the area tournament last week.
''I'm really proud of this team. They stuck together and played well all season. They didn't quit when they were down against Wheeling when we had to beat them both games on Saturday.''
Tom Pasco, Wheeling Post 1 manager, also believes that anyone in the field can win the state title.
''I think we have some really well-matched teams,'' Pasco said. ''We faced Elkins, Fairmont and South Charleston and they are all good. While I'm disappointed we didn't win the area tournament, we lost to a good Moundsville team. They can put the ball in play and have decent pitching. They definitely are going to be a factor this week.''
Wheeling dropped a pair of one-run games to tonight's opponent Fairmont during the regular season. Post 1 also played the defending champs from South Charleston once and again lost by one run when Post 94 scored the winning tally in the bottom of the seventh.
Post 1 will be seeking its first West Virginia title since 1988 when it captured the last of its seven consecutive crowns. Overall, Wheeling has been American Legion state champions on 14 occasions.
Fans attending the American Legion state championships can expect to see some quality baseball as the six competing teams have a total of 41 players who have either completed their first year of college baseball or are committed to play on the collegiate level next season.
South Charleston's roster includes no less than a dozen players that fall into that category. Fairmont and Elkins have seven current or future collegiate players, while Wheeling and Berkeley have six each and Moundsville three.
Fairmont's Maverick Myers, a shortstop-outfielder, was on the West Virginia University roster as a freshmen.
The West Virginia state champion advances to the Mid-Atlantic Regional to be held August 9-13 at West Lawn, Pa. Other participants in the field will hail from Delaware and Maryland along with two teams each from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.