Roy Hobbs World Series: Lee County’s No. 1 Amateur Event Returns in October
Aug 28, 2017 05:14PM
● By Kevin
Some 4,000 ballplayers age 35 and up arrive in Southwest Florida in October. Photo courtesy of Roy Hobbs Baseball/Greg Wagner Photography.
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The fictional Roy Hobbs was a baseball natural, a freakishly gifted player with prodigious home-run power. Hobbs was a creation of legendary author Bernard Malamud in his novel The Natural.
I played baseball for decades but was never a natural. But I did play in the Roy Hobbs World Series, wore baseball uniforms, laced up spikes and felt the satisfying kerplunk of fly balls plopping into my glove in centerfield.
It was the siren song of baseball that lured me back to playing the game of my youth in my 40s. It’s a seductive song, one that brings about 4,000 players age 35 and up to Lee County every fall to play at JetBlue Park, CenturyLink Sports Complex, City of Palms Park and Terry Park.
They come from near and far. When I played in the 1990s and early 2000s, I drove a few miles to ballparks. Others travel much farther. A Russian team, for example, often participates. Teams come from Nova Scotia and Washington, from Puerto Rico and California, from Massachusetts and North Carolina. Wearing a uniform and enjoying the camaraderie of the dugout, bonding with teammates and playing the game of our youths, is magical.
Although I no longer play, I’m still part of the Roy Hobbs World Series. Roy Hobbs president Tom Giffen has in recent years asked me to write stories for the event’s programs and newsletter, The Inside Pitch. That means I meet baseball players, men and even women who love the game, who revel in the chance to play again.
My directive from Tom during the World Series is simple. Find stories. Tom usually has players in mind, but other times I wander the parks seeking stories. One day last fall a player walked past me on the way to the parking lot. This player had a sharp black-and-white uniform, eye-black smeared under the eyes. But there was something that struck me as different. This player was a woman.
Before she reached the parking lot, I introduced myself and asked if she had time to chat. Jan Yuvan was a 52-year-old outfielder for a team from Chicago called the Windy City Warriors. She was the only woman in the 2016 Roy Hobbs World Series. Like the men in the tournament, she has a simple reason to play, one she shares with all of them. “I just love the game,” the yoga instructor told me. “There’re always new things to learn, and I love the pace, the cerebral nature of it and love the guys, the banter in the dugout and how much of a mental challenge it is.”
Jan Yuvan shares her love of the sport on her yoga website with these words: “My passion is baseball, which I play at every opportunity. I am also an avid student of the game.”
Baseball’s siren song continues luring thousands of players to Lee County. But nearly a month of Roy Hobbs World Series that starts in October means more than the crack of the bat―it means the ka-ching of cash registers. Lots of ka-chinging. A Lee County study of 62 amateur sports events in 2016 ranked it No. 1 in hotel room nights (13,746), direct spending ($8.47 million) and total economic impact ($14.1 million).
The Roy Hobbs World Series has been held in Lee County since 1993, growing from 54 teams to more than 240. Players don’t come to infuse the local economy with their dollars. They come for baseball, lured here by that siren song of bat and ball, gloves and spikes, fields and grass and sunshine and competition. Oh, and the crack of the bat and kerplunk of balls landing in gloves. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s warmer here in the fall than in Nova Scotia, Chicago or Moscow.
During last fall’s World Series I met 82-year-old shortstop Tony Esposito, who is from Chicago and played for the New Jersey Cardinals. In 1953, he signed a contract with a $7,500 bonus with the St. Louis Browns. “My mother thought we hit the lottery,” Tony told me.
Tony never reached the majors, but last fall, 63 years later, he was playing baseball. Yes, he was back in Lee County along with thousands of others who can’t resist baseball’s siren song.
Written by freelance writer Glenn Miller, a frequent contributor to TOTI Media.