Mickey Smith, now referred to as "Papa Cruiser" by the girls on this year's 16-under California Cruisers, surprised the team with a visit at their first double-elimination game in the Amateur Softball Association fastpitch national tournament held in Chattanooga this week.
Smith started the Cruisers organization in Orange County in 1989. In 1993, his 12-under Cruisers won the ASA national title at Warner Park, which along with the Summit of Softball Complex has hosted this year's national tournament.
Smith's championship team did not give up an earned run while winning the ASA state and national tournaments. His pitching ace was former University of Arizona and Team USA sensation Jennie Finch.
"Nobody knew who she was then," Smith said, "but they soon did."
Smith moved to the Chattanooga area not long after his team's title run. Current Cruisers coach Phil Harman said the organization remains strong with teams in five age groups and all qualifying for national tournaments.
Smith works in Tunnel HIll, Ga., for a division of a large truckload service company. He said another employee of the company, Denise Johnson - whose daughter Mykeah plays softball for Tad Andrus's 16-under Tennessee Fury team - told him the Cruisers would be part of the 172-team field this week.
Smith was at each Cruisers game since Wednesday when he showed up with an original Cruisers uniform, trading pin and banner signed by players on the '93 championship team. The team bowed out Saturday in a tie for 17th place.
"He came over and introduced himself," Harman said. "It was definitely a surprise. The girls loved it. He was our good-luck charm."
There's one other connection between the current Cruisers and Smith, who last coached in 2008 and '09 at Dade County High School in Trenton, Ga. Harman's wife, Mary Beth, is employed by Bob and Janette Morey. Bob is a former Cruisers assistant of Smith's.
"I just came to support them - just to be with them," Smith said. "Like I told the ball team, my blood still runs blue and orange, and theirs will, too, for the rest of their lives."
Winners' final at 10
Winners-bracket quarterfinals and semifinals were played Saturday afternoon and night at Warner Park. The winners-bracket final between The Next Level from California and the Georgia Impact is set to take place at Frost Stadium at 10 a.m.
The championship is slated for 2 p.m. A second game would take place afterward, if necessary.
In winners-bracket quarterfinal action, the Southern Force out of Georgia cruised past the Salt Lake Pegasus 12-2. The Next Level edged the Southern Force out of Illinois 1-0. The Atlanta Vipers earned a 5-3 victory over the Texas Bombers White and the Georgia Impact defeated the Nebraska Sizzle 8-3.
The Next Level beat Georgia's Southern Force 9-0 in one winners' semifinal. The Impact downed the Vipers 4-2 in the other.
Fury tie for 13th
The Tennessee Fury '94 were the highest-finishing area team. They tied for 13th place.
"I told this team after the ASA state tournament when we won our berth, I thought we had the team to finish in the top 15 in the country," Fury coach Jeremy Higdon said. "They made it happen."
Higdon said Lindsey Fadnek carried the pitching load with more than 60 innings logged for the Fury, who went 1-1 in pool play and 5-2 in double-elimination. Fadnek was chosen to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA High School All-America first team for her work last spring as a junior at Coalfield High School.
Mikayla "Mimi" Cartwright sparked the Fury's offense this week, hitting better than .400. She's a junior at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tenn.
"She was incredible," Higdon said. "We didn't hit it that much. Pitching and playing defense are what got us to where we were.