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VOL. 129 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 27, 2014

 

Hagan Classic Honors Local Baseball Pioneer

By Don Wade

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Recently, Andy Cook ran into a couple of his old Memphis Tigers teammates at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park.

Although he pitched at the University of Memphis – and even briefly for the New York Yankees – those teammates were from a different Memphis Tigers, the competitive baseball organization started almost 50 years ago by Keith Hagan and several others.

Andy Cook, a former player for the Memphis Tigers, stands next to a commemorative plaque honoring Keith Hagen, who started the competitive baseball program 50 years ago. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Cook and his old teammates sat down together and started talking about the good old days, the way middle-aged men who no longer play the game do. But mostly they talked about Hagan. Not necessarily about how he had a keen sense for when to put on the hit-and-run or dial up a squeeze play, but about all that he did for them and so many other kids who just wanted to keep playing baseball as long as they could.

Hagan hadn’t been a player himself, not as far as Cook knows. And he wasn’t classically trained as a coach. But he was in the business of making baseball dreams come true.

“He was respected for his tenacity in promoting his players,” said Cook, who now runs the Memphis Tigers organization and is tournament director of The Hagan: The Keith Hagan Memorial All-American Classic.

“Keith Hagan was not satisfied until every one of his kids was signed by somebody.”

The tournament, which runs from Friday, June 27 through July 2, will feature 73 teams from 11 states and includes six teams from Canada. Four age divisions will be represented – 15-and-under, U-16, U-17 and U-18. The tourney serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Memphis Boys Athletic Association (i.e., the Memphis Tigers organization).

First held in 1985 in Columbus, Ohio, Hagan moved the tournament to Memphis in 1987. The tournament has had several names over the years and the current one was adopted in 2009 to honor Hagan, who died that year from cancer; the U-16 winner’s trophy is named after another Memphis Tigers organization leader: the late George Moreland.

University of Memphis head baseball coach Daron Schoenrock first came to the tournament in 1989 when he was coaching at Birmingham Southern. It was a different time, with coaches perhaps looking to fill out their rosters for fall practice with players who had just graduated high school but not yet committed to a college.

“It’s a tournament with a long history,” Schoenrock said, “but Andy’s kept it current with what today’s recruiting needs are.”

“Recruiting these days gets earlier and earlier and younger and younger,” added Ole Miss assistant coach Carl Lafferty.

At least 70 college and professional scouts are expected to attend games at The Hagan this year; games will be played across the metro area on the U of M campus, at USA Stadium in Millington, at Gameday Fields in Cordova, and at several of the area’s better-groomed high school fields.

The combination of having multiple age divisions not only works for college coaches always looking ahead, but for competitive youth baseball organizations, such as the St. Louis Gamers and Ontario Blue Jays, that will bring multiple teams to Memphis.

“A win-win,” Cook said.

Schoenrock estimates that half of the 35 players on his roster have played in The Hagan at least once. He signed a couple of Memphis Tigers players from the 2013 graduating class – submarine reliever Nolan Blackwood (Southaven High School) and infielder Zach Schritenthal (DeSoto Central) – in part based on what he saw in that tournament. He had seen them play plenty in high school, but this provided a different look against better competition and in sometimes trying circumstances.

“I saw Schritenthal make a diving play at 10 o’clock at night on a side field when it really didn’t matter,” Schoenrock said.

Lafferty watched Ole Miss pitcher Wyatt Short (Southaven) play for the Tigers in The Hagan, and also Rebels catcher Henri Lartigue (Southaven). Again, they had been seen in high school but the tournament offered a different environment for evaluation.

“The more you see them, the better off you are,” Lafferty said. “We have gotten some talented players from the Tigers.”

Among the past tournament participants that are currently working in the big leagues: three-time MLB All-Star pitcher Josh Beckett and pitcher Paul Maholm (Germantown High School), both of whom play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Ontario Blue Jays have had more than 50 players who played in The Hagan drafted by MLB teams.

The level of play was strong when the tournament first came to Memphis and it remains strong today. That part hasn’t changed. But the tourney’s growth, well, that’s all part of keeping up with the times.

“The difficult part of cherishing your history is to also keep moving forward,” Cook said. “If Keith could see it now, I think he’d be proud and I think he’d be pleased. He had a vision to get it to that point. He was just taken too early. Hopefully, from this point forward, no one will forget who he was.”

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