Throughout 2021, participation in team sports overall has increased slightly, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s latest Topline Participation Report, and for baseball, total participation has remained relatively even at nearly 16 million players. That’s good news for a team sport in these pandemic-affected times.
For those looking to find a home for their youth, high school, collegiate or adult baseball event, these areas have a lot to offer.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Ann Arbor Sports Commission works with numerous venues to bring top-notch baseball tournaments and events for players of all ages. “Our primary facility, though, are the fields on the campus of Eastern Michigan University,” says Sports Commission Executive Director Mike Malach.
“We have one collegiate/high school turf field, a four-diamond cloverleaf and one softball stadium field,” he notes. “In addition, we host games at the University of Michigan baseball field. All these fields feature ample parking, restrooms, concessions and various seating configurations.” The area also has several high school complexes that host tournaments throughout the summer.
Venues in the Ann Arbor area are able to host events of all sizes. For instance, in recent years, and coming back again this summer, will be more than 200 teams for the USSSA Fastpitch Nationals. Typically, says Malach, weekend tournaments often have 40 to 80 teams participating.
With Eastern Michigan University, “We manage the facility, including everything involved in running tournaments, from field setup, to parking, scheduling, etc.,” says Malach. “For other facilities, we work with the organizer in locating a suitable park, helping out with pricing, marketing, hotel blocks and other details. The Ann Arbor Sports Commission can play an integral role in supporting and hosting any baseball or softball tournament. We guarantee teams and families will love visiting Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor area.”
“Arlington is a community that is serious about baseball,” says Matt Wilson, executive director of the Arlington Sports Commission. “From youth baseball tournaments, to cheering our beloved Texas Rangers, or to hosting the World Series in 2020, we crown champions in Arlington, Texas!”
The area has several multi-diamond facilities, including the Arlington ISD, which has six baseball/slow-pitch softball fields with 300-foot fences and 10 youth baseball/fast-pitch diamonds, with 190- to 210-foot fences; Arlington Parks & Rec offers 18 baseball/slow-pitch fields with 300-foot fences and three tee-ball fields; the Harold Patterson Sports Center has more than 130 acres of field space, and then there’s Globe Life Park/Texas Rangers Youth Ballpark. Many of the venues have movable mounds and fences.
Arlington hosts a lot of baseball events of all sizes year-round, including Pony League, Perfect Game, Super Series, Triple Crown, ASA and more. One of the largest on the diamonds is the USSSA DFW World Series in July, which often draws more than 500 teams to area fields.
The Sports Commission and CVB work in conjunction with Arlington Parks & Rec to get field availability, then work with local partners to augment events for athletes and their families. Off the field, there’s a lot to do, too, and the CVB can help arrange restaurant discounts, attraction discounts, awards ceremonies and more. “The whole family will have plenty to do and explore,” says Wilson.
In Bakersfield, Aera Park offers 11 fields of various sizes, and within a half-mile of the park complex, there are two high schools that can add another six fields. Then there’s the Northwest Baseball Complex, with 12 fields of various sizes, which is adjacent to the minor-league Sam Lynn Ballpark.
During spring and fall, both Aera Park and Northwest are utilized by league play (Cal Ripken and Pony are the two sanctions played locally). In the summer and parts of winter, the complexes are used by local club teams hosting regional tournaments, most of which attract up to 60 or more teams, often within the four-hour drive that puts Bakersfield within 90 percent of California’s population.
Visit Bakersfield can help with field rental costs and connecting planners to local clubs for volunteers and umpires. Off the field, the area has the Bakersfield Museum Trail, a 15-mile driving route that connects four unique and family-friendly attractions. Whitewater rafting is popular in season, and The BLVD is a family fun district with all types of attractions.
“With over 300 days of sunshine per year, the baseball scene in Bakersfield is thriving,” says Matt Billingsley of Visit Bakersfield. “Because we host so many tournaments, the operation is completely turnkey. We have plenty of club teams willing to fundraise/volunteer and a large base of umpires, making hosting a tournament seamless.”
Gulf Shores | Orange Beach, Alabama
The premier venues for baseball along Alabama’s Gulf Coast include the Orange Beach Sportsplex and the Gulf Shores Sportsplex. The facility in Orange Beach features nine diamonds, seating for 1,800, concessions, restrooms, playground and batting cages. The Gulf Shores facility offers seven diamonds, seating for 1,400, concessions, restrooms, press box and more. Both easily handle youth, high school, collegiate and adult events. Gulf Shores also has Johnnie Sims Park, with four diamonds, seating for 800, restrooms, batting cages, a pavilion, playground and more.
“Since our organization’s inception in 2005, we’ve worked with baseball groups to create successful events and memories that last a lifetime,” says Michelle Russ, STS, vice president of sales, sports & events for Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events. “What started with facilitating a few youth baseball events per year has evolved into hosting a variety of tournaments for all ages through the spring and summer.”
Gulf Coast Classic, held at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex, is expected this year to bring in 120 teams. The area also hosts the Perfect Game World Series, which in 2021 produced over 54,500 room nights for a whopping $44.13 million in economic impact. For 2022, more than 810 teams are anticipated.
The Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events team helps planners by offering grants for qualifying events; seeking the best accommodation options and rates for groups; coordinating on-site activities; supplying marketing and promotional tools; recommending vendors and suppliers; and providing welcome bags with coupons.
Lee County, Florida
Lee County hosts two Major League Baseball teams annually for spring training: the Minnesota Twins at the Lee County Sports Complex and the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. “MLB teams contribute to Lee County’s economy in many ways — an influx of players, coaches, office personnel, reporters and media support staffers, and the much larger contingent of visitors who attend the practices and games,” says Jeff Mielke, director of Lee County Sports Development.
And this also points out a major emphasis on baseball in the area. “From youth baseball to Major Leagues, Lee County is home to some extraordinary partners that work to provide a great baseball experience,” Mielke says.
In addition to the 7,500-seat stadium, the Lee County Sports Complex features five other baseball fields. JetBlue Park has a 9,900-seat stadium and six additional diamonds. The area also has the Player Development Complex, with five full baseball fields and covered seating, and Terry Park, featuring four diamonds, including a 300-seat stadium.
Among the larger baseball events is the annual Perfect Game BCS National Championship, which brings in about 500 teams with more than 9,500 athletes and 16,000 spectators. The annual Roy Hobbs World Series has about 300 teams and 5,000 athletes, and each year the FHSAA Baseball State Championships takes place in Lee County. Off the field, there is much to do for athletes and families.
Round Rock, Texas
Round Rock bills itself as the “Sports Capital of Texas,” and it certainly brings that phrase to life when it comes to baseball. Champion Fields at Old Settlers Park offers 20 baseball fields of various sizes (and batting cages) to accommodate youth, high school, college and adult events, with plans to add five more fields.
Dell Diamond is the home of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, but also holds amateur baseball events and tournaments, with amenities that include a pool and spa party area, covered picnic area with playscape, a Fun Zone for kids and more.
Round Rock has hosted a number of large baseball events in recent years, including the annual Round Rock Classic, the Baseball Youth All American Games and a Legends Showdown presented by Ripken Baseball. The Round Rock CVB can help out in many ways, including providing marketing assistance, finding volunteers and working with area hotels.
“Round Rock is a top destination for youth, amateur and minor league baseball,” says Chad McKenzie, director of Sports Management and Tourism. “Our facilities offer the perfect setting to enjoy America’s favorite pastime. This year, we are excited to host the Ripken Select Baseball Tournament and the Athletx Tournament. We’re eager to welcome tournament directors, baseball enthusiasts, and athletes to enjoy baseball at all levels in Round Rock.”
The Tri-Cities area in Washington — comprised of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, and West Richland — is awash in baseball facilities. The Pasco Sporting Complex sits on 19 acres and offers six lighted diamonds with adjustable fencing, along with batting cages, restrooms and seating for 1,800 (300 per field). The Complex has been the nerve center for major tournaments, including the Triple Crown Sports Father’s Day Slugfest, which brings in more than 100 teams and over 4,000 spectators.
Adjoining the Complex is Gesa Stadium, home to the Tri-City Dust Devils, an L.A. Angels-affiliated Minor League Baseball team. Gesa also has hosted high school WIAA State Baseball Championships.
The 52-acre Southridge Sports & Events Complex in Kennewick features four lighted diamonds, concessions, playground, aquatic playground and more. Each field has two full-size bullpens and covered dugouts. The Columbia Basin College Baseball Complex in Pasco is 400 feet out to center field, and also has a 12,500-square-foot hitting facility with four batting tunnels, three batting machines and several tee stations. There are at least nine other complexes in the area, each with from three to six diamonds of various sizes.
“The area offers over 300 days of sunshine, amazing community amenities, and the infrastructure to host tournaments for a longer season due to the region’s dry climate,” says Hector Cruz, vice president of Visit Tri-Cities. “The Tri-Cities region is an ideal getaway for the whole family.”
“Baseball has been a part of Wichita’s 150-plus year history and continues to be popular today,” says Josh Howell, vice president of sports development at Visit Wichita. “Not only does Wichita have the facilities to host a variety of events, but the city also has a passion for sports and energetically supports their home teams, as well as those visiting to compete in the heart of the country.”
The city is home to several baseball facilities, including the newly built, 10,000-plus-seat Riverfront Stadium. Home of the Wichita Wind Surge, AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, the state-of-the-art, multi-purpose venue can host a myriad of events and meetings.
Other facilities include Eck Stadium at Wichita State University, Genesis Sports Complex and Westurban Baseball Complex, which has 11 fields and hosts various youth baseball tournaments throughout the year. Eck Stadium, home of WSU’s baseball team, seats more than 7,500 and offers an all-turf complex, 18 skyboxes and a club that can accommodate nearly 200 people. The adjacent Bombardier Learjet Indoor Practice Facility is a 29,000-square-foot, climate-controlled building with an AstroTurf field and retractable batting cages. The Genesis Sports Complex has five all-turf fields that can support baseball for all ages.
From helping to source hotels and venues and site tours to welcoming athletes and promoting the event, Visit Wichita can assist event planners with all aspects of executing a successful event. SDM