Going to a national tournament is to a slow-pitch softball player what the World Series is to a major league baseball player.
It's the ultimate.
And some guys will do anything to get there. Count Jimmy Johns of Glen Burnie among them.
Johns, a veteran 34-year-old softball player who has played with several clubs in his 17 seasons of action, is getting the chance to fulfill his goal.
"It's always been my dream to go to the nationals, and now I've got the chance and couldn't be happier," said Johns, who was recruited by the Angle Inn Doghouse of Dundalk to play this summer.
Johns, who was with Grafhix of Columbia last summer, jumped ship to play for Angle Inn. He is one of two local players and a player/coach on the East Baltimore-sponsored team that plays Wednesday nights at Randazzo Park in Severn.
Recently, Johns led his new club to the championship of the Bud Lite Triple Crown Classic in Charlotte, N.C., to qualify for the Class C Bud Lite Triple Crown National Classic in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Steamboat Springs is about three hours from Denver and will play host to teams from all over the nation for the national C title starting Aug. 6. Johns and the Angle Inn will be among them after sweeping the tournament in Charlotte in four games.
Johns took the MVP award in Charlotte, winning all four games as the Angle Inn pitcher and batting a robust .583 with eight RBI, including four in the 10-8 championship victory over the Sox of Virginia.
Angle Inn opened the classic with a 6-0 win over the Young Guns of North Carolina with Johns' knuckleball baffling the losers. Johns knuckled a three-hitter and benefited from some slick fielding by the team's keystone combination.
Second baseman Todd Rainier, who took the tournament's Gold Glove award for outstanding defense, teamed with shortstop Dave White, who has 121 RBI in just over 100 games this season, to turn 11 double plays, including five in the first game win over North Carolina.
Points were given for defensive plays, and Rainier, who batted .615 in the four games, accumulated the most to take the top glove award.
In the second game, Angle Inn edged the Sox, the club they would see later in the championship game of the double-elimination tourney, by 5-4.
Pat Hickey (.480), who had three dingers in the classic, homered in the third-game 12-inning win by 14-9 over Nepell, S.C. The Rainier-White combo turned three more DPs in the crucial victory that put Angle Inn in the final.
"That game went into extra innings and we won it thanks to a great play by our catcher, Al Panuska in the seventh inning," said Johns. "Al made a great tag despite a violent collision at home plate to prevent the winning run from scoring.
"I don't know how he held on to the ball, but he did and we went on to win it on the 12th."
Panuska hit .600 in the tournament, sharing catching duties with Claude Wyant who hit .583 with seven RBI.
Outfielder Paul Wilson, who also lives in Glen Burnie, and player/coach Joe Mon of Pasadena with Johns give the Angle Inn an Anne Arundel County flavor. Mon assists manager Joe Palmerino of Dundalk.
Wilson hit .480 in Charlotte, and Johns said he provided the team with "several key hits." Like Johns, Wilson also left another club -- to play for Angle Inn.
Last year Wilson was with the Players' team run by Russ Curry of Pasadena. Before becoming Players, the club was known as the CSX A's.
Run by Frank Jones, the CSX A's won the National Amateur Softball Association C Championship in Las Vegas in 1989. Jones retired in style, choosing to say goodbye with a national championship, but most of the guys on the team stayed together and now play under the name Players.
Angle Inn is hoping to achieve the same kind of success enjoyed by the A's, and Johns believes they can.
"We have an excellent team with a lot of guys who can hit," said Johns. "We score runs."
Johns was referring to such teammates as catcher/third baseman Brian Knizer (.571) and outfielders Joe Dippel (.571), Tony Ranocchia (.450) and Mike Spencer (.500) and utility man Danny Wisniewski (.420).
Unfortunately, the club may have lost Dippel for the season with a broken ankle. Dippel tore up his ankle this week in a league game at Randazzo Park.
"Joe is hoping to be back for the nationals but it doesn't look good," said Johns.
Angle Inn is in second place to Patton's of Brooklyn in the Class C league at Randazzo Park and Johns said the team's overall record is 60-41.
Winning in Charlotte was especially gratifying in that Johns and the guys were beginning to develop a bridesmaid complex.
Not only is Angle Inn runner-up in the local league, but the club was also second twice in ASA national qualifiers and in the Maryland State Games softball tournament.
The Triple Crown Classic plays under ASA rules but is affiliated with the International Softball Association.