It was a celebration 25 years in the making.
The Tyler Junior College baseball program marked "25 Years of Building Champions" on Sunday with a reunion of Apache players and coaches at Mike Carter Field. It is also the 10th anniversary of TJC's first national baseball championship.
Dr. Jonathan Groth, who was charged with returning the baseball program back to TJC in 1992, retired as coach in 2009 and remains close to the program as the broadcaster of webcasts, commemorated the day by welcoming back the Apaches and their families.
Groth and former player and current coach Doug Wren threw out the ceremonial first pitches before the game with LSU-Eunice. Freshmen Blaze Beason, from Plano Prestonwood Christian, and Corben Henry, from Alvin, caught the fastballs.
Groth recognized the returning alumni who stood with the current Apaches down the first base line as the national anthem was played.
"I think I speak for both Coach Wren and myself in saying thank you to each of these guys. Thank you for what you have done in helping pave the way for the players that now put on the Black and Gold. Thank you for all the hard work and memories. … Thanks for continuing to represent TJC Baseball with pride.""These former Apache players in attendance today helped pave the way for the past and current success of the Tyler Junior College baseball program," Groth said. "Each of these men were part of building the tradition and legacy of excellence and integrity over 25 years that continues to characterize Apache Baseball today.
Groth noted "more than 200 players have earned the right to play at the four-year level of college baseball; more than 40 players have signed contracts to play professional baseball; and more than 50 former Apaches are now coaching baseball in high schools and colleges all over America."
By the numbers, Groth said TJC has won 762 games, achieved NJCAA postseason play 15 times, earned six NJCAA district titles and won four national championships - 2007, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Apaches have also had 35 All-Americans.
Brandon Stone, one of the original Apaches from the 1993-94 team, was on hand with his wife Kimberly and 6-year-old son Brandon Jr.
"It is a great honor knowing you were part of the foundation of the TJC baseball program," said Stone, who played at Baylor after TJC and now resides in Gilmer.
Some of the other players, managers and coaches who attended along with Stone were Evan Gillispie (2005-07), Travis Chick (2013-14), Michael Wilson (2005-07), Ryan Pate (2003), Cody Ellis (2002-04 and 2006-07); Chris Bates (2002-07); Drew Johnson (2008), Brandon Pello (2002-04); Jon-Michael Cline (2001-02); Justin Jenkins (2005) and Matt Stephenson (2006-07).
"There are many former Apaches that could not make today's events because of schedule conflicts," Groth said. "I have gotten well wishes from many and have appreciated hearing from each of them. Sadly, we have lost a number of former players over the years - Keno Fitzgerald, Brad Lemmerman, Jake Dixon, Garland Hawkins, Jake Taylor, Austin Phillips and Peyton Diers. We will cherish the memories of these young men, taken from this life far too soon, and their part in the history of this program.
"Two years ago, we weren't sure I would be able to make it to this day. My family and I will forever be thankful to God and our Apache family for their love, prayers and support through the life-threatening health challenges we journeyed through."