VANCOUVER — They stumbled at times throughout that summer.
Not when it counted, though.
The 1987 Vancouver Cardinals still count, still matter, 30 years later.
Tuesday night at Propstra Stadium, on a field now named after their coach, the 1987 Vancouver Cardinals were honored for their run to the American Legion World Series championship game.
It’s been 30 years, but once a baseball player always a baseball player.
“When we see each other now, we instantly go back to the same ways we communicated,” said Brett Blechschmidt. “It will be that way no matter what stage of life we’re in.”
So 10, 20, or 30 years from now, teammates will still be making fun of each other while at the same time enjoying the memories.
These Cardinals have plenty to remember, as well.
Expectations were high going into that season with so many talented players returning from the 1986 state championship squad. However, the Cardinals seemed to never be able to put it all together that summer.
Until it mattered.
The Cardinals lost the first game of the state tournament, but won the rest in the double-elimination format to win another state title. They did the same thing at the regional tournament, bouncing back from a loss with another winning streak to earn that championship trophy. That got the Cardinals a trip to the World Series in Stevens Point, Wis.
Another strong showing there got them to the finals. The Cardinals had to settle for second place but were still celebrated back home as champions. More than a hundred showed up at the airport to greet them. The mayor officially recognized them and their accomplishments.
They will go down as one of the best baseball teams in Clark County history and certainly the top American Legion squad.
Of the 18 players on the roster, 17 would go on to play college baseball, including 13 who played for Division I programs. Five ended up playing professional baseball, with Stan Spencer making it to the majors.
Nine of the Cardinals showed up Tuesday to be honored before today’s Vancouver Cardinals played at Curt Daniels Field.
Daniels coached the Cardinals, along with Greg Hopkins, after helping to found the club. Daniels, also a long time high school coach in Clark County, died in 2003.
“As the years go by, you realize what a special group this was,” said Pam Daniels Blaufus, who was married to Curt and experienced all the victories. “It’s fun to see everyone and share the memories. That was a very special season.
“Curt would be proud of the men they have become.”
One of those men is now coaching the Cardinals. Ty Singleton, who coached King’s Way Christian to a state baseball title in the spring, is in charge of the Cardinals this summer. He got the best of both worlds Tuesday, spending time at the barbecue with his old friends before the game while wearing the current Cardinals uniform.
“It’s been great to see old teammates, people I haven’t seen in a long time,” Singleton said. “It’s always fun to reunite with friends.”
The nine players credited their coaches for not only that season but for life lessons they still use today. Hopkins is now a scout for the Chicago Cubs.
For a more personal account of one player’s memories, the Cardinals posted a story written by Ben Jatos on the team’s website: The Best There Never Was: Remembering the Greatest Cardinals Team.
Stacey Ayers heard about the reunion weeks ago and committed just about immediately.
“Let me know when, and I’m in,” he said. “Sounds great.”
His only concern?
“I was worried if I was going to recognize anyone,” Ayers said.
They all did, and for one evening in 2017, the Vancouver Cardinals were back in 1987, going all the way to the World Series again.