Ann Arbor Travelers have high expectations for return to Connie Mack World Series
Photo courtesy of Tom Constance
The Ann Arbor Travelers baseball team is heading to the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M. for the second year in a row, and this time around the players aren't just satisfied to be there.
They want to win it.
“Last year we kind of surprised ourselves by making it,” said Travelers manager Jordon Banfield. “This time around, we’re going with the intention of winning it. ... With the roster that we have, we have a team that can make a run.”
That roster of 17- and 18-year-old players includes former Pioneer High School All-State player Travis Maezes.
"It’s gonna be great. We were the young guys last year, we’re looking to make a run at the finals and winning it this time around," said Maezes, who will play at the University of Michigan next year.
Banfield was part of the Connie Mack World Series as a player in 2005. He joined Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila and former University of Michigan star Zach Putnam on an Ann Arbor Braves team that finished in third place.
Banfield contends his current Travelers squad -- with its 19 players either signed by, committed to or currently playing at the Division I college level -- is as good, if not better, than that Braves team.
Photo courtesy of Tom Constance
The road back to Farmington wasn’t as easy as Banfield expected for a squad with 13 returners from a year ago. The Travelers lost eight games in the first five weeks of the summer season and didn’t win any of their first four tournaments.
“We had that stated goal to get back to Connie Mack and maybe some guys had a hangover from last year,” Banfield said. “It took us a while to get going."
"Since we made it as 17-year-olds we expected to make it back and I think we kind of took things for granted," said Travelers pitcher and Michigan recruit Daniel McKinney from Bowling Green, Ohio. "But we worked really hard after a tough first half of our season."
The Travelers have players from all over Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. Local talent includes Maezes, Debol, Pioneer graduate James Strickland and Huron graduate James Bourque. Bourque and Kyle Jusick just finished their freshman seasons at Michigan.
Last year the Travelers were the youngest team in the field of eight and lost their opening game of the tournament, 8-0, before winning a pair of games and finishing tied for fifth.
Banfield expects the Travelers to be better prepared for the big stage this time around and is happy his team plays the Southern California Renegades in the first game of the tournament on Friday, with less time to be distracted by the pageantry of the event.
“That first game we played last year, we were totally overwhelmed,” said Banfield. "For most of our guys, it’s a repeat and our age is an advantage as oppose to the disadvantage of being younger than most teams last year.”
McKinney said the team was surprised by the large crowds at the 6,100-seat Ricketts Park and the level of competition.
"We kind of had a deer-in-the-headlights kind of look," he said.
Maezes agreed, adding "Now we’re ready for that and will come out with all cylinders going."
Banfield said winning the tournament would be a fitting sendoff. He doesn’t intend to keep the Travelers going any longer after coaching this group of players since they were 14-years-old.
"We’re done after New Mexico,” Banfield said. “This has been a great thing for five years. Having it end on this stage is a great way to go out.”