John Oliver needs to make some money over the summer, but he also wants to play some competitive baseball without straying too far from his Northland home.
That’s what makes the Liberty Monarchs such a perfect fit.
“I have to work, so it’s good living at home and then I can play five minutes from my house,” Oliver said. “It’s easier getting to the field every day.”
Oliver is the type of player coveted by the Monarchs, who are playing their third season in the Mid-Plains League. Like the other eight teams in the wood-bat circuit for college players, the Monarchs offer a chance for players to see some top-level competition without having to spend a summer in some far-flung locale.
And many of those players are like Oliver, a Staley graduate who will be a red-shirt senior next season at Pittsburg State. This year’s roster again has a number of Liberty, Park Hill and Staley graduates as well as others from the Kansas City area.
The Monarchs play their home games at William Jewell College’s Talley Stadium. Two of the league’s eight teams – the Midwest Athletics of Belton and the first-year Kansas City Knights – are also located in the metro area.
“A lot of people can’t go to Virginia or North Carolina or Texas to play,” Monarchs manager Ryan Cooper said. “It’s a little flexible where guys can work because they live just down the road. It’s a little flexible league but it’s a very good league to get experience for college.”
Cooper, an assistant baseball coach at MCC-Maple Woods, has a young squad in his first year managing the team. His 23-man roster includes 10 players who just graduated from high school last May. But most of them are destined for top-flight junior-college or NCAA Division II programs so he does have some talent in that group.
“They’re all going to good schools and they’re good players from the Kansas City area,” Cooper said. “They guys I get I want to be good players and they’ve shown that this summer.”
Oliver, who can play first base, third base and shortstop, is spending his third summer with the Monarchs, and his bat has sparked an offense that’s averaging 6.8 runs a game with a .291 team batting average.
Going into last week’s all-star break, Oliver’s .449 batting average ranked sixth in the league. He was tied for second in doubles with 10 and also ranked among the league leaders in hits (40) and RBIs (26).
Left fielder Brady Holden, who is transferring from the discontinued MCC-Longview program to Stater Fair Community College, is also in the top 15 in batting at .368, and sixth with 32 hits. Center fielder Roderick Criss, a Staley graduate heading to Crowder College, leads the Mid-Plains in triples with six.
While the Monarchs have plenty of bats, they don’t have plenty of pitchers. Starter Talbott Buford, a Lee’s Summit West graduate now at Missouri Western, had a 2.81 earned-run average at the break, but the team’s ERA stood at 7.64.
Sometimes the Monarchs can outslug their opponents, but the lack of arms has been a factor in their 10-15 record going into the final weeks of the season. Liberty is last in the Mid-Plains’ four-team East Division.
“We’re holding about eight (pitchers) which obviously isn’t enough and two of them are gone,” Cooper said. “We have an offense that puts up six, seven, eight runs a game. It’s helped us where if we give up six runs we still have a chance to win.”
Cooper would like to see the Monarchs, who are affiliated with Prodigy Baseball Academy in Parkview, gain more of a following in the Liberty community. He’s already seen it develop one among Northland ballplayers looking for a summer home.
Oliver found that home three years ago, and it’s definitely a bigger one now.
“We barely had enough for a game,” at first, Oliver said. “Now we’ve got 15 or so every game so it’s definitely grown. The league’s name is getting out there.”