Baseball in the U.S. dates back to the mid-1800s. Played by individuals of all ages, gender and skill-levels, baseball is considered an American pastime. This means that people of all ages are going to be playing and/or watching it, which means they need a place to play and watch.
USA Baseball, the National Governing Body (NGB) of amateur baseball, governs over 12 million players and sanctions countless tournaments across the country. Additionally, they represent the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Baseball Federation.
Softball is currently the most popular participant sport in the United States, boasting approximately 40 million American recreational and competitive participants. Initially played as a fast-pitch game,presently fast-pitch and slow-pitch enjoy equal popularity, with fast-pitch typically being reserved for competitive and professional athletes. Competitions are sanctioned by a range of organizations including USSSA, ISA, NSA and most notably the Amateur Softball Association (ASA), the NGB. The ASA oversees approximately 3.5 million players.
Part of the appeal of baseball and softball is the ability to modify the rules to suit different athletes' skill sets, thereby opening up the sport to even more people. This also makes baseball and softball attractive to event organizers and host facilities.
Stepping Into the Batters Box
Baseball and softball are large event markets. There are countless tournaments throughout the season, which can run from February through November in some regions. Baseball/softball tournaments are weekend long, sometimes longer, events that typically require teams and spectators to remain on-site for the duration of the tournament. Facilities must provide quality concessions, comfortable common areas, and activities for the fans and spectators.
These details, though, are secondary to the most important element of any baseball/softball complex: playing fields. Because tournaments typically follow a structure that requires several games to take place simultaneously, facility owners need to provide excellent playing fields because players want to play on fields that are top-notch.
With, at minimum, nine players per team, coaches, parents and entire families, securing a baseball or softball tournament can yield huge dividends. But to draw these events and keep them coming back, a facility must provide first-rate amenities, outstanding service and above all else, outstanding playing fields.
Notable Baseball and Softball Facilities
Home to two complexes, the Beaumont Athletics Complex and Ford Fields, Beaumont, Texas boasts 24 tournament-ready fields. Beaumont's outstanding facilities, which include 51-tier bleachers, hard-covered stands, all-weather infields and a centralized gate with concessions, allow the city to host between 40 and 50 major tournaments a year, including the Independent Fastpitch Association's annual championship tournament which draws 125 teams and 5,000 people.
Freddie Willard, director of sales at the Beaumont CVB, said, "I can't express enough, you always want to come to the CVB first." By connecting with the Beaumont CVB event organizers you will learn that Beaumont pays attention to smaller details. They set up a miniature visitor center on-site to provide information, they have staff on-site to assist with tournament operations and they pay special attention to maintaining the fields. They also consider not-often-thought-of details like providing a list of area Laundromats so teams can wash their uniforms.
Willard added, "If we were a big-tier city, a tournament would be a drop in the bucket and another number but because of our size, tournaments are a big deal and the city comes together and welcomes them and creates a home away from home. We give them special attention and the support from the community is what brings organizations back again and again."
Botetourt Sports Complex
Botetourt Sports Complex is a new state-of-the-art facility in Fincastle, Virginia. Established in 2007, the Complex has already made a name for itself hosting the defending ACC Champions, the VA Hokies.The Complex hosted 22 tournaments in 2008 and will be hosting even more in 2009.
According to Pete Peters, director- Botetourt County Parks, Recreation and Tourism and Complex Manager Jim Farmer, the designers of the Complex did their homework when they planned the facility. BSC boasts four championship-level softball and youth baseball fields, a center tower with a surrounding porch for shade, space between fields for breaks from games, ample parking, a walking track, and playground. Inside the tower they reserve a floor for tournament operations which allows organizers to spread out and handle tournament business. The space sports a kitchen area for hospitality and the entire Complex is a Wi-Fi zone.
Botetourt also offers a unique element, a DTN weather system which allows the staff to receive real-time weather reports thereby ensuring the safety of players and fans. This system sets Botetourt apart from other facilities because it allows them to act quickly in the event of rain or lightning.
Farmer encourages event organizers to "find out what kind of support you are going to have if they have rain. If we have a tournament at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning we have the resources to make the fields ready. If people are coming in from 30 states, the last thing you want to do is cancel - we're going to do everything we can to make it happen."
Part of the unique experience that is Botetourt is the gorgeous landscape surrounding the facility. As Peters pointed out, "You cannot beat the views from our vistas; any direction you look it's mountain after mountain. Everyone who visits and plays here makes references to the views."
Cobb County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs
Cobb County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, located in Cobb, County Georgia, hosts approximately 2,500 tournament games and another 2,000 league games on its five fields located in the Al Bishop Sports Complex. According to Eddie Canon, director of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs department, the organization's attention to detail and strong focus on customer service has made them a stand-out facility for many major tournaments, including 39 national ASA tournaments and the number-one youth tournament, the 18 Under Gold.
Cobb Parks makes a commitment to running each tournament themselves, which gives it a personal touch. Specific details, such as hosting opening ceremonies for tournaments, discount rates at restaurants and attractions, and taking care of field maintenance after each game so each team plays on a fresh field, has allowed the organization to establish a strong reputation.
One reason for Cobb's success is the fact that they have five fields at the Al Bishop and eight fields at Lost Mountain Park. These facilities eliminate the need to travel from site to site for games. Canon adds, "Our eight-field complex is our number-one facilities because once they arrive they never have to leave the location. We provide great fields, great concessions as well as playgrounds, which are located close to the fields so parents feel comfortable."
When hosting any tournament Canon points out that they prefer family-friendly tournaments. Canon said, "Remember the ballplayers are the customers and take care of them but make sure it's a positive atmosphere and encourage participants to remember why they play because sportsmanship is important."
He finished by encouraging organizers to utilize the resources he provides and work with the Cobb CVB for hotel nights because they will spend unnecessary money otherwise.
Columbus Sports Council
The Columbus Sports Council in Columbus, Georgia took on an intense opportunity when they hosted the 1996 Olympic Softball games. Welcoming the world to their facilities could have been daunting, but Columbus accepted the challenge and soared. According to Herbert Greene, director of the Sport Council, their formula is simple: "We are successful because we have great facilities and our staff is going to be attentive and take care of the people who come here."
Columbus' seven-field complex achieved acclaim not only because of their success hosting the Olympics but also because of their success with other tournaments such as the Superball Classic, considered to be the premier amateur women's softball event and tournaments for the NCAA, ASA, GHSA and NSCA.
In addition to its exceptional softball complex, Columbus also maintains a 5,400 seat baseball venue, Historic Golden Park, which was renovated in 1996 so it could host the first-ever Olympic Women's Fast-pitch Softball event. The ballpark also hosts the Southeastern Conference college baseball championship and other regional tournaments. The two facilities are located in the same area, offer ample parking and are great places to play the sports.
Greene noted that Columbus has a number of great restaurants near the facilities and eight new hotels have recently opened their doors. This is important to the Sports Council because they typically require half of an event's participants come from out of town. Greene also added that visiting organizations must act appropriately because he and the city do not want any commotions and they want everyone involved to enjoy themselves and have safe travels. Greene finished by saying, "The Columbus Sports Council maintains one of the premier softball facilities in the country. People that come here love coming here."
Greater Mankato CVB
The Greater Mankato CVB in Mankato, Minnesota boasts six baseball/softball facilities. Their primary facility, Caswell Park, contains four fields that are laid out like the spokes of a wheel with a pavilion in the center and as two adjacent fields. Greater Mankato offers outstanding fields, great concessions, plenty of parking and a family friendly environment. It would be easy to make the claim that this is a great place to host a tournament without many supporting facts but Anna Thill and Larissa Mrozek of the CVB provide examples of how their city and facilities go above and beyond to provide the best experience possible.
One of Greater Mankato's largest tournaments is the North American Fast-Pitch championship. This event draws 120 teams and they have hosted on a three-year rotating basis. Thill noted, "This is a prestigious tournament and it is rare that a tournament will go to a city without an airport but they overlook this because of the great experience in our city. The closest airport is 80 miles away so it is a big deal for them to drive that distance."
Part of the appeal is that the CVB is involved with running the tournament from handling the gates to selling souvenirs. The city's hotel staff wears welcome t-shirts and there is signage throughout the city welcoming people to the event. Maintenance of the facility is also important Mrozek pointed out, "Our fields have amazing drainage. In 2005 it rained two inches the morning of the tournament but by the end of the day we were on time after only a one- hour delay."
Something else Greater Mankato offers which few facilities do is a miracle field for children and adults with disabilities. This specialized field has a rubberized surface instead of grass and provides opportunities for children and adults who may not otherwise have a chance to play. Thill added, "The community is a hub for different populations, people with disabilities, seniors, etc. Because we take care of them and cater to them we have the ability to build a facility that includes everyone."
Seventh Inning Stretch Grand Slam
Baseball and softball continue to maintain popularity among U.S. and International athletes and the number of tournaments and competitions continues to grow as well.
To knock a tournament out of the park requires an outstanding facility and staff that is willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of organizers. There are a few elements, though, that all facilities must possess to ensure a successful baseball/softball tournament:
Well-maintained playing fields
Quality concessions and patron services
On-site management staff.
These factors in conjunction with a strong connection to the area CVB and/or Sports Council can lead to a "home-run" event for everyone involved.