The 40th anniversary edition of the Kamloops International Baseball Tournament (KIBT) opens Thursday morning and there isn't any truth to the rumour that the winners' cheque already has been made out to the Seattle Studs.
But then again . . .
The Studs, guided by veteran manager Barry Aden, have won KIBT each of the last two years and five times in the last six summers. Only the Alaska Goldpanners in 2009 have interrupted the run.
"I was a 19-year-old player at that tournament in 1980," Aden says, "and I've been there ever since. It's a great stop in the summer. The prize money is wonderful. The crowds and the environment are great. We just really love coming there and the Studs have always come there."
The eight-team KIBT, with all games at NorBrock Stadium, begins with the Kamloops Sundevils meeting the Northwest Honkers, who play out of Bellevue, Wash., at 9 a.m. The Studs play in Thursday's fourth game, meeting the Kelowna Jays at 5:15 p.m. (A complete schedule is in Scoreboard.)
The Studs are in a pool with Kelowna, the San Diego Barona Stars and the Thurston County, Wash., Senators. The Studs, Jays and Senators play in the Pacific International League; the Stars, who are 9-6 in the Western Baseball Association, are the National Baseball Congress' 2012 Western regional champions.
"This year is going to be really difficult," Aden says. "Thurston County is an excellent team. San Diego is always good, and we open with Kelowna. You can't look past anybody. It's a pretty tough decision and you have to be top two."
The top two teams in each division advance to the playoff round. The second pool features the Sundevils, Honkers, Everett Merchants and Red Deer Riggers. The Sundevils, Honkers and Merchants also play in the PIL; in fact, the Merchants took two games from the Sundevils, 2-1 and 6-3, on Sunday.
The Studs arrive in Kamloops on something of a roll. They are 12-1 and in first place in PIL; they have won six in a row and are 9-1 in their last 10 league games. Overall, Seattle is 25-6, which includes having won the Canada Day Blast in Kelowna two weeks ago.
"We like all our trips to Canada," Aden says with a chuckle when it is suggested that Studs return to Seattle to visit their bank and then head north again. "We were in Kelowna two weeks ago. We were in Nanaimo to open the summer, the first weekend in June. We have Kamloops, then a visit to Trail. And, of course, we have Grand Forks at the end of the year."
Aden feels that his guys "are putting it together" and that could be bad news for the rest of the field.
"We pitch real well. That's been our strength," he says. "We don't always score six, seven, eight runs a game. Pitching and defence. . . ."
The Studs, according to Aden, have three primary starters - right-handers David Benson, Aaron Trolia and Miles Nagel.
And then there's reliever Taylor Thompson, whom Aden describes as "our 70 mile-an-hour sidearm guy."
Thompson, a 25-year-old right-hander from Sedro-Wooley, Wash., will be at KIBT for a seventh time. All he did last year was come out of the bullpen to win two games and save another. When it was all over, he was named the tournament's MVP. In 2008, he was honoured as the top pitcher.
Shortstop Derek Jennings, KIBT's best defensive player last year, is back for a seventh time, while catcher Garrett Bredo will play in his sixth or seventh KIBT.
The key to the Studs' offence, however, is leadoff hitter Caleb Brown.
Aden, named KIBT's top coach in four of the last five years, describes Brown as the team's "best hitter . . . a big, strong, fast guy."
The Studs, then, are ready; they have been, in fact, almost as hot as the weather.
"It was 85 in Seattle on Monday so I'm starting to get used to it," Aden says. "I'm looking forward to (the dry heat), even if it's 100."
JUST NOTES: The winning team will take home $9,000. . . . Seattle won twice on KBIT's final day last year to win it all. The Studs, who went 6-0 and outscored the opposition 30-13, won the final, 4-2, over Everett. Earlier in the day, Seattle beat the Alaska Goldpanners, 1-0, ending the game with an 8-2-6-5 triple play. . . . According to the PIL website, the Honkers, at 10-4, are third, with the Merchants (7-4) and Sundevils (4-6) in fourth and fifth. . . . Kelowna (3-6) is in seventh place. . . . The Honkers are coming off a weekend sweep of the Nanaimo Coal Miners. . . . Aaron Brooks, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who started the season with the Merchants, was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 26th round of the MLB draft last month. He now is with Seattle's team in the rookie Arizona League.
HALL OF FAMER
Since Barry Aden of the Seattle Studs last was at KIBT a year ago, he has become a hall of famer.
In August, the National Baseball Congress announced Aden as one of the 2011 inductees into its hall of fame.
Aden, who played into his 40s, is into his 23rd season of managing in the Pacific International League, having been with the Tacoma Timbers and the Studs. He went into this season with a 755-330 record, having taken teams to 13 PIL titles and numerous tournament championships.
Aden also has made 16 trips to the NBC World Series, including each of the last 10 seasons. In fact, with more than 50 records, he is the winningest manager in World Series history.
Harold Pyatte, the Everett Merchants' long-time GM and head coach, was part of the class of 2005.
Aden and Pyatte are part of an impressive club, along with the likes of Buck O'Neil, Tom Seaver, Joe Garagiola, Tony Gwynn, Joe Carter, Ron Guidry, Whitey Herzog, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin and a whole lot more.