Commerce held 25th annual Mickey Mantle Classic

Apr. 10—COMMERCE, Okla. — The Mickey Mantle Classic, hosted by the baseball team at Commerce High School, held its 25th annual wood bat tournament over the weekend.

The tournament features three divisions of various school sizes honoring the legendary baseball player from the small Northeast Oklahoma town just across the Missouri border.

The wood bats are a feature that honors the game the way Mantle played it.

Since the tournament began, Commerce has brought in a special guest for autographs or to speak at the banquet after the tournament. Mantle's family have attended, as have many former MLB players. Some of those professionals were Goose Gossage (twice); Rollie Fingers and Lee Smith visited in 2023; Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer Dennis Leonard was the 2024 guest.

"I was always a Mickey Mantle fan," Leonard said. "When this thing came up, I said 'Wow!' I got to go see Mickey's house. We're going to go take a picture over there once we leave here."

Area teams had success in the tourney as Neosho's junior varsity team took down Fairland (Oklahoma) High School 5-4 in the championship of the Miners Division on Saturday. Diamond defeated Arcadia Valley (Ironton, Missouri) 9-4 for the Comet Division championship. The Triple Crown Division went to West County (Park Hills, Missouri), which beat Vinita 12-0.

Commerce head baseball coach and tournament director Brian Simmons was in charge of this event for the second year now.

"I'm a big baseball guy. I love everything about high school baseball and pro baseball," Simmons said. "Mantle, I didn't get to see him play, but I understand the legacy that he has and the pride the towns he's lived in and played for have, so it's cool."

Simmons took over for the former head coach of the Tigers, Brian Waybright, two years ago when he retired as the leader of the baseball program. Simmons was an assistant for Waybright starting in 2000 when this event first kicked off, so he's been a part of it for its entirety.

There were six teams in each division for a total of 18 teams competing in the field and three different states were represented in 2024.

The Tigers' head coach said it is a luxury being able to have guests such as Leonard, Smith and others in town.

"These guys have all been the greatest guys," Simmons said. "They care about baseball. They want to see baseball promoted. It's not always about the Major League stuff, but they want to see kids have fun with it."

Don Brown, known as a Mickey Mantle look-alike, said he knew he had to make the trip down for this tournament.

"This being the 25th year, I had to be here," Brown said.

The 80-year-old, with his wife, Sharon, made the drive to Commerce from Waterville, New York, to attend the high school baseball event. They came in a white Ford Fusion decorated with the New York Yankees logo on the car, Mantle's jersey number "7," and his nicknames. You could find "the Mick" on the front of the car and "the Commerce Comet" on the back.

Brown, who works today promoting organ donation, also decorated his car with "Donate Life" stickers.

His desire to push for organ donation is thanks in part to his love for Mantle that Brown said developed after watching him play baseball for years. Brown recalls the famous baseball player once saying "Be a hero. Be a donor."

"That was Mickey's last wish and he was my idol," Brown said. "I take that look-alike appearance to spread the word about being a donor. I always tell people, 'Take my eyes and give them to a man that never saw the beauty of a woman or a flower. Take my heart to some guy that's in pain. Dissect my brain to where some little boy or girl can speak again. ... If you want to bury something, bury my faults."

Brown's brother needed a kidney and he happened to be a perfect match for his sibling. Brown said that personal connection is a part of the reason for his drive to promote organ donations.

Mantle was such an idol for Brown that when the look-alike was a youngster his coach told him to pick one side and go with it and to stop trying to bat left- and right-handed. Brown says, jokingly, that coach "probably ruined my career."

Leonard left young ballplayers with a little advice for their future. He said that success requires extra work and not just going to practices organized by the coach.

"Just playing major league baseball was a dream. I know the reality of things now because I went through it. I know what the odds are," he said. "But, hey, I did it. Other people do it. There's always that opportunity if you believe in yourself.

"These kids are high school players. They all started in Little League. And probably a lot of their Little League friends couldn't make their high school team. So, you're already better than a lot of the kids you started with. And if some of these kids have the opportunity to go to college, look how much better off you are than the high school kids. And if some have the opportunity to sign professionally, you're way ahead of the game. You look for just an opportunity."