Johnny's packs pride for trip to world tourney Perennial champs hope to face Cuba


Two years ago at the World Port baseball tournament in the Netherlands, Johnny's amateur baseball team from Baltimore, representing the United States, upset a select group of Cuban All-Stars, 12-9, in 13 innings.

It was the first time the Cubans had lost since the inception of the tournament in the late 1970s, but before they began to sulk over that defeat, they dreamed of a rematch.

"They came down on the field after we beat them and invited us back," said Johnny's coach Walter Youse, whose team lost to Netherlands in the championship game that year.

Yesterday Johnny's left for Rotterdam, Netherlands, to play in the World Port tournament again, and like Cuba, it hopes for a rematch.

"I'm ready to go," said Old Dominion sophomore pitcher Wayne Gomes. "I'm looking forward to playing Cuba. It's going to be a great challenge."

Over the years there haven't been many amateur baseball teams with players between the ages of 20 and 21 that have been able to beat Johnny's. The team has won 36 consecutive Baltimore City All-American Amateur/Baseball Association titles and nine out of the past 12 AAA/BA national championships in Johnstown, Pa.

Last year, the team had another near flawless season, posting a 66-4 record. This season, the team is 35-5, overpowering opponents behind a strong batting lineup led by University of Maryland junior Chris Smoot (.451, 7 HR) and Seton Hall junior Robbie Schmitt (.387).

Anchored by Gomes (8-0, 1.02), Nebraska junior Josh Bullock (6-0, 1.94) and Clemson junior Chad Phillips (5-0, 1.20), the team's ERA is 2.12.

"Sometimes you're lucky," said Youse, who has been the team's coach for 37 years.

But often, it's because Johnny's is more talented than its opponents. Reggie Jackson and Hall of Famer Al Kaline, a Baltimore native, played on the team, as have 43 others who have gone on to play in the major leagues.

That long list of achievers is what motivates many college sophomores and juniors who are under the age of 21 to try out for the team. Also, many top college players travel from around the country just to have the privilege of being coached by Youse.

"I've never lived in a big city, and this has been a great experience," said Phillips, from Woodruff, S.C.

"I wanted to play for Walter Youse. I just figured it would be great to play for someone well-known like him because he is a great coach, and maybe he can help me out later on."

Said Youse: "They all like to play for the team, and they all have a lot of pride with the team's winning tradition. They know what they are getting into. It's all baseball. There are a lot of kids that we want, but they don't want to go through what we go through. They are not baseball nuts."

Perhaps some of them don't won't to get clean-shaven, which is the first team rule Youse makes clear every summer.

"We have to shave all that stuff off," said Gomes. "He wants us to have hard-playing attitudes. He doesn't go for all that hair. We have a good thing going. It's all about hard work. [Youse] really knows what he's talking about because he's been around a long time."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad