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  • Courtesy Members of Fort Wayne’s Stars Baseball Academy squad pose with the championship banner after the team emerged victorious in capturing the title in the Veterans Division (ages 35 and older) at the Roy Hobbs World Series, which was played last month  at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. 

  • Stars Baseball Academy posted tournament-bests in runs scored (99) and runs allowed (39), going 3-1 in pool play before winning four straight games to claim the Roy Hobbs World Series championship in Fort Myers, Fla. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017 1:00 am

Payoff for perseverance

After 11 years, local 35-over team wins Hobbs title

Josh Patterson | For The Journal Gazette

After Randy Moss and the Stars Baseball Academy squad won the Men's Senior Baseball League World Series in 2006 in Clearwater, Fla., he sought tougher competition.

He only had to look a couple hours down the road – namely, to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox and host site of the Roy Hobbs World Series.

It took 11 years and as many attempts, but the Stars emerged victorious once again, winning the 2017 championship in the Veterans Division for players 35 and up.

“We've been there trying our tails off,” Moss said. “We finally had a really great mix this year. I can't say enough about the group of guys, we jelled from the get go.”

That may be understating things, as the Stars posted tournament-bests in runs scored (99) and runs allowed (39), going 3-1 in pool play before winning four straight games to claim the World Series title. The final victory, a 6-3 triumph over the top-seeded and defending champion Chicago Woodpeckers, avenged the Stars' lone pool play defeat.

And it took all 22 rostered players contributing, be it co-MVP Eric Smith hitting .607, which included a 6-for-6 performance in the semifinals with a grand slam and six RBI. Or Garrett Wiejak, who played “lights out” at third base, according to Moss, despite not having played infield since converting to pitcher before attending college.

“I knew I could do it, but no one else even knew I was a position player there,” Wiejak said. “It was instincts and the drive to want to help everyone else on the team. You don't want to let the other guys down.”

While the camaraderie throughout the week helped the team relax and focus, the Roy Hobbs World Series served as a culmination of a nearly yearlong grind. Moss started assembling his team in November 2016. Several Stars team members joined he and his brother Rodney on the Yankees in Fort Wayne's 28-and-over men's league that plays on Sundays during the summer.

They also had the chance to work out at the academy's facility in Huntertown, where Randy Moss trains kids 9-17 to play baseball and softball. The Yankees team members serve as the Stars' core, and Randy Moss found himself in a great position to supplement the roster.

“We've had a group of about nine that's been at every Hobbs since 2011,” said Chris Moore, who batted .500 and also pitched for the Stars at the World Series, while also helping to finance the trip. “People were having a hard time getting there, so I said, 'Hey, I'll pay for everybody to get down here, and that made everything a lot easier.'”

Moore's financial contributions made the trek easier for Smith, who has enlisted in the Army, to enjoy his last baseball experience for the foreseeable future. The trip also served as a honeymoon of sorts, or at least a chance to escape the Fort Wayne autumn for a week in sunny Florida before commencing a new life journey.

“It was definitely an opportunity of a lifetime as newlyweds, to get away before the military hits, getting to the beach and being around good people,” Smith said.

While the roster will undoubtedly change – Smith has departed for Fort Benning, and Rodney Moss suffered a career-ending leg injury, according to his brother Randy – unlike before, when the Stars looked for a new challenge after winning their last title, the Roy Hobbs event should serve as a permanent addition to the schedule.

“We learned from the year previously, when we pitched a lot of our pitchers, went 4-0 (in pool play) and got beat in the first game of the tournament,” Moore said. “How can you not enjoy playing at a fantastic major league field? How can you not enjoy that with a whole bunch of guys that enjoy each other?

“We're going back and we're going to win it again.”