1999 LNP tourney champs thrilled by McGwire

Mark McGwire was the big hit during the LNP Tournament trip to the Vet. Here is he surrounded by Philly kids for autographs during batting practice. (LNP Photo by Chris Knight.)

Mark McGwire was the big hit during the LNP Tournament trip to the Vet. Here is he surrounded by Philly kids for autographs during batting practice. (LNP Photo by Chris Knight.)

McGwire cheered, Drew jeered as Era Tourney champs watch

By Jeffrey Reinhart
LNP Sports Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Every summer, the winners of the LNP Midget Baseball Tournament are treated to a Phillies game.

But this year’s bus trip, which included a visit to the Franklin Institute, was extra special, because Big Mac was in town.

Mark McGwire and the St. Louis Cardinals made their first – and only – visit to Veterans Stadium for a three-game series this week, and members of the Pequea Valley Braves, Hempfield Black and Strasburg/Willow Street Cardinals got to see the slugger in person Monday night.

They also got to see J.D. Drew and hear Philly’s finest boo him silly.

But the main attraction was McGwire, who slammed 70 homers last summer and is fairly close to that pace this season.

“It’s just too bad that we didn’t get to so him hit his 500th homer,” said Brian Biggs, Hempfield’s shortstop. “I like McGwire because he’s a big guy and he hits a lot of homers and he gets the fans excited.”

McGwire thrilled St. Louis fans last Thursday when he took San Diego’s Andy Ashby deep twice for career homers No. 500 and 501.

He didn’t get a homer Monday night, but he put on quite a show in batting practice, when nine of his 11 homers reached the upper deck and several of those landed more than halfway up in the upper deck.

In the game, McGwire got two hits and two walks in five trips to the plate, popping out in his last time at bat while extending his homerless at-bat streak to 13.

But that hardly mattered to the NET winners.

“I love watching McGwire play,” said Carl Langley, Pequea Valley’s first baseman. “It’s amazing what he’s doing. I always root for the Phillies, but I’m excited to see McGwire.”

What’s the first thing Langley and his teammates did when they got inside the Vet Monday night?

“Went straight to left field,” he said.

“Same here,” Biggs added.

They opened the gates half an hour early Monday – and will do so again tonight and Wednesday – so that fans could get a good seat to watch McGwire take batting practice.

It’s become quite a phenomenon.

And Mac didn’t disappoint Monday.

“I’m a big Philles fan and I love Scott Rolen,” Biggs said. “I also like Ken Griffey because he hits a lot of homers and makes great plays. But I’ve been watching what McGwire has been doing the last couple of years.

“Last year I really followed it, and it looks like the same thing might happen again this year. McGwire has really taken baseball over and has brought people back to watch the games and really get into it.

“I think that’s the most important thing in baseball. I know that every night in the paper it’s McGwire did this and Sosa did that, so it’s making news.”

Just when you thought last summer’s home run race couldn’t be topped, McGwire and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa are suddenly battling it out again. Sosa had a big lead for a while, but McGwire has been on a tear since the All-Star break.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on what McGwire and Sosa have been doing,” said Nick Vosnock, Hempfield’s first baseman. “They were real close last year and it was really competitive. I’m more of a casual baseball watcher, but if it’s on, I’ll watch it – especially if it’s a big game.”

And lately, there have been a lot of big games on.

Last week alone, McGwire peppered his 500th homer and Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs each reached the 3,000 hit plateau. Plus the Phillies are still hanging around, so people – like Vosnock – are still watching.

“I love baseball,” Langley said. “My favorite player is Cal Ripken because he plays every day and he’s not greedy like some other players. Plus he plays for my favorite team. To me, I watch a game a day, and it doesn’t really matter who’s playing. I just love baseball. I think a lot of kids today would rather be outside playing baseball, but I love watching games.

“And I love all the players … Sosa, McGwire, Junior.”

On Monday, most eyes were glued on Big Mac, who won over a couple of more fans – if that’s possible.