COMMERCE — Graig Nettles, considered to be one of the greatest third basemen of all time, will be the special guest for the 13th annual Mickey Mantle Classic.
"We’re extremely excited about getting him, not just because he was a great Yankee," tournament director Brian Waybright said.
Nettles was snagged by word of mouth.
"He and Goose (Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, who has been the guest here twice) are buddies," Waybright said. "Goose was telling him (at a collectables show) about how much fun he had down here, then when I called the agent, he called Nettles and then said that Nettles was really wanting to come."
Nettles will be the guest speaker at the tournament’s awards banquet on Saturday, April 14, but he also will make an appearance at Mickey Mantle Field during the final day of competition to sign autographs for players.
Nettles breaks an string of sorts for the tournament: he’s the first position player to speak here since former Yankee shortstop-outfielder Tom Tresh in 2005.
In between, it’s been Hall of Fame pitchers Gossage (2006, 2010), Ferguson Jenkins (2007), Juan Marichal (2009) and Rollie Fingers (2011).
"Mickey Mantle’s name might attract them, but there has to have been word gotten out in their social groups that this is a neat event for the kids," Waybright said. "It’s exciting to have all those people."
Nettles broke in with the Minnesota Twins in 1967 and played for the Indians, Yankees, Padres, Braves and Expos. He retired following the 1988 season.
As a part of four pennant-winning Yankee teams, Nettles enjoyed his best season in 1977 when he won the Gold Glove Award and had career-highs in home runs (37) and runs batted in (107) in leading the Yankees to the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was the most valuable player in the 1981 American League Championship Series and was the Yankees' team captain from 1982-84.
Nettles wound up setting an American League record for career home runs by a third baseman (390).
This year’s Mantle Classic field includes 4A state champ Locust Grove and Salina, which won the Comet Division championship for the second straight year.
There was no Triple Crown Division winner because of a wet field.
That was just the second time a championship game wasn't played. The first was in 2008, when the whole tournament was washed out by rain.
Hopefully that won't be a problem this year: officials have purchased a full-sized tarp for the field and an outfield drainage system was installed during the summer.
"Theoretically, unless its actually raining at game time, I think we’ll be all right," Waybright said. "We had a huge drainage problem in the outfield. Even last year when it rained so hard, we got the infield where it was playable, but the outfield was still questionable. Hopefully the French drains will take care of that. The City of Commerce has come in and really lent us a hand in getting the drain system done."
In addition to Locust Grove and Salina, other teams entered are Diamond, Mo., Kansas, Tulsa Cascia Hall, Haskell, Salina, Tahlequah Sequoyah, Tahlequah and McDonald County, Mo., as well as Lucky 7 Conference rivals Quapaw, Wyandotte, Afton Fairland and the host Tigers.