E.A. Sports Today

Back at it

Oxford O-Zone All-Stars return to practice after MLB All-Star experience; next stop: Dixie Youth World Series at Choccolocco Park

Carter Johnson (L) discovers Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, aka Nick Thompson, has joined the Oxford O-Zone All-Stars.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The Oxford O-Zone All-Stars were back on the field Thursday for the first time since their Magnificent Midsummer Miami Adventure, motivated and ready for the stretch run to their own World Series.

And if the crowd in the stands watching the team’s first practice back on familiar ground didn’t know better, they might have thought the boys brought Home Run Derby champion Aaron Judge back with them.

There he was, warming up along the first-base line at Earl Martin Park. He was wearing a teal American League All-Stars jersey with “Judge 99” on the back. Oh, wait, that was Oxford middle infielder Nick Thompson, but after watching the Yankees’ rookie hit massive homer after massive homer it was easy to become a fan.

“It was fun watching Aaron Judge hit 513-foot bombs,” Thompson said. “I didn’t even know about him before. I was more of a Cubs fan, but when I saw Aaron Judge it just changed me. I used to be a Yankees fan when Derek Jeter was around, but that changed a lot.”

Thompson and his teammates were among 12 youth baseball and softball teams from around the country invited by Major League Baseball to participate in the Youth All-Star Classic at Marlins Park during the MLB all-star break. They didn’t go to All-Star Game or get much interaction with the big-leaguers, but they watched the Home Run Derby where Yankees’ rookie slugger Judge wowed the crowd with massive home runs, watched the Futures Game and Legends & Celebrity softball game, shagged flies for the High School Home Run Derby and played games against other youth teams.

Blake Clark even hit a home run off softball legend Jennie Finch during welcoming ceremonies on South Beach.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience that most people wouldn’t get,” said infielder/pitcher Tide Gann, the son of Oxford manager Rusty Gann. “Shagging for the High School Home Run Derby was like nothing I’ve ever done before. At the Home Run Derby we may have not gotten seats to get a home run ball but it was crazy to see how far they could hit the ball.”

The trip was just the thing the Oxford stars needed as they hit the final weeks of preparation for hosting the Dixie Youth World Series at Choccolocco Park. The team hasn’t played many games since being put together and the weather has cut into their practice time. They hope to find some games to play this weekend. They won at least two games on their Florida trip.

“It was great all the way around,” Rusty Gann said. “They got to know each other, spent a lot of time on the buses and sat with different kids every time, intermingled with different teams. I think it was a good introduction to this final stretch.

“We’ve just got to focus on us getting better, being the best we can be. I’m hoping to see an increasing level of energy as we get closer, their anticipation builds as we go forward and their desire to work a little harder increases. Our season ended the middle of May, so they’ve kind of been in a lull. August was kind of a long way away then, now August is not a long way away; it’s right here on us. I’m hoping we amp it up in the next few weeks.”

Their potential opponents aren’t relaxing. State tournaments are currently underway throughout the Southeast to determine the teams that are coming to Oxford for their World Series. The O-Zone (12U), Majors (12U) and AAA (10U) series all will be here.

Some spots already have been secured. Stanley defeated West Roberson 12-11 Thursday night for the North Carolina AAA title and will play the Alabama AAA champion in its opening-round game Aug. 5. Wescott/Pepperhill from North Charleston won the South Carolina Majors title Wednesday. Huntington is the Texas Majors champion. The Alabama O-Zone tournament got underway in Andalusia Thursday.

“(Going to Miami) will help us a lot,” Tide Gann said, “because we played a bunch of teams that weren’t from around here and we’ve never seen them before, and that’s what it’s going to be like in the World Series.”

“I think the teams here are going to be much harder,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be facing teams that have played together for a long time.”

Oxford O-Zone all-stars (from left) Alex Petty, Caleb Thomas, Tide Gann and Carter Johnson spend a few minutes in the dugout before going out to practice Thursday.

At Choccolocco Park
First-round games
August 5

South Carolina vs. Oxford, 3:30 p.m. (Field 3)
Tennessee vs. Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. (Field 4)
Georgia vs. Mississippi, 5:45 p.m. (Field 3)
Texas vs. North Carolina, 5:45 p.m. (Field 4)
Alabama vs. Florida, 8 p.m. (Field 3)
Louisiana vs. Virginia, 8 p.m. (Field 4)
Championship Game
Aug. 10, 11 a.m. (Field 3), (7:30 p.m., if necessary)

At Choccolocco Park
First-round games
August 5

Georgia vs. Louisiana, 3:30 p.m. (SB 1)
North Carolina vs. Oxford, 3:30 p.m. (SB 2)
Mississippi vs. Huntington, Texas, 5:45 p.m. (SB 1)
Alabama vs. Tennessee, 5:45 p.m. (SB 2)
Arkansas vs. Virginia, 8 p.m. (SB 1)
Florida vs. Wescott/Pepperhill (North Charleston), S.C., 8 p.m. (SB 2)
Championship Game
Aug. 10, 12:30 p.m. (SB 1) (8 p.m., if necessary)

At Choccolocco Park
First-round games
August 5

Stanley, N.C. vs. Alabama, 3:30 p.m. (Field 1)
Oxford vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m. (Field 2)
Louisiana vs. South Carolina, 5:45 p.m. (Field 1)
Virginia vs. Arkansas, 5:45 p.m. (Field 2)
Texas vs. Tennessee, 8 p.m. (Field 1)
Mississippi vs. Georgia, 8 p.m. (Field 2)
Championship Game
Aug. 10, 10 a.m. (Field 1) (5:30 p.m., if necessary)

Dixie Youth State Tournaments
Alabama – O-Zone, July 13, Andalusia; Majors, July 13, Troy; AAA, July 13, Troy.
Arkansas – O-Zone, July 21, Texarkana; Majors, July 21, Texarkana; AAA, July 14, Ashdown.
Florida – O-Zone, July 15, Marianna; Majors, July 8, East Lakeland; AAA, July 15, Marianna.
Georgia – O-Zone, July 14, Perry; Majors, July 14, Crawford County; AAA, July 7, Putnam County.
Louisiana – O-Zone, July 21, Monroe; Majors, July 21, Alexandria; AAA, July 21, Alexandria.
Mississippi – O-Zone, July 14, Mendenhall; Majors, July 14, Mendenhall; AAA, July 14, Columbia.
North Carolina – O-Zone, July 15, Eden; Majors, July 15, Leland; AAA, July 8, Dunn.
South Carolina – O-Zone, July 14, Hartsville; Majors, July 7, Conway; AAA, July 14, Hartsville.
Tennessee – O-Zone, July 13, Sweetwater; AAA, July 13, Loretto.
Texas – O-Zone, July 21, Longview; Majors, July 8, Center; AAA, July 21, Longview.
Virginia – O-Zone, July 14, Brookneal; Majors, July 14, Lunenburg; AAA, July 21, Appomattox.

Oxford O-Zone coach Jason Johnson talks with the team before practice Thursday.

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